This might not come as too much of a surprise to everyone but I don’t think I have ever gone out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. Working in the food industry means that I’m almost guaranteed to work Valentine’s Day, barring that it fall on a Sunday. Thankfully I married someone who isn’t super high maintenance and we usually celebrate on a different day. I also use this day to kinda show off and make an awesome dinner for him, because let’s face it, he deserves it! And I am horrible at thinking up gift ideas for such occasions…
So let me walk through the menu for this past Valentine’s Day dinner! It was epic!
- Nutella-stuffed chocolate-covered strawberries
- Filet mignon with a purple potato mash, roasted garlic asparagus and a red wine sauce
- Chocolate bread pudding
So good right?! Well this magic didn’t happen overnight; I had been planning this dinner for a few weeks and finally settled on what I thought would convey what I wanted to do this year for Valentine’s Day. On a shopping trip, I found purple potatoes and I just thought “I need to have these and make something delicious out of them!” Little did I know that this single food would be the determinant for my whole dinner. That’s the beauty of cooking, you can go into a store and find a little treasure that ends up dictating what dish you are going to make with it! I guess that’s the same kind of thing that happens with authors and their characters in a story. I bought the rest of the ingredients once I had decided that we needed to have some kind of red meat and a veggie to go with it!
A few days before the Day of Love, I decided that I wanted to make the strawberries because I was planning on doing a whole pound of them (a bit over ambitious but why not shoot for the stars!). I saw a cute little tip on Facebook about coring strawberries with a straw, genius! That led to another post suggesting stuffing strawberries with Nutella… my life just got a whole lot better with that thought! So I cleaned up my strawberries, punched the core out with a straw and melted my chocolate chips on the stove. To get the Nutella in the strawberries, I simply used a sandwich-sized Ziploc baggie, poured the Nutella to one side of the baggie and cut a small corner off of the bag; instant piping bag! I then filled the strawberries from both sides to make sure all of the strawberries were completely full of this gift to humanity! Once they were all filled, the dipping in the chocolate began! I LOVE chocolate dipping things! It’s so simple, it’s relaxing! Once they were all done, I stuck the strawberries that had been placed on a sheet pan with parchment paper into the fridge so that that chocolate could harden and I could store it better at a later time. The only downside was that I had some leftover melted chocolate and had no idea what to do with it… yet.
Flash forward a few days and it was Valentine’s Day! I hadn’t divulged my menu to my husband and had managed to have kept the filet super TOP SECRET. I deserve some kind of award or something. Anywho, anyone who knows me knows that my Sundays are PACKED! And for me to plan something special and a little extra on Sundays and thus giving up my nap time, you gotta be kinda special for me to do that. I had quite a bit to do that day with church and meetings and with being forever pregnant, I needed to get some shut eye before cooking! Woke up from my nap and let the cooking begin!… Before I get ahead of myself, were you wondering what happened to the left-over melted chocolate from the strawberries?? My husband was genius enough to point out that I make a mean bread pudding and could use the chocolate in there somehow. What a coincidence! I had rolls left over from the week before (perfect timing right?!) and bread pudding is a no brainer! So I got the heat going on my chocolate to melt it once again, cut my awesome rolls into chunks, made an impromptu egg base with some sugar, milk and vanilla extract, threw in my bread and melted chocolate, gave it a good stir and then threw it into the fridge to sit and think about how delicious it was going to be for a few hours.
The next big thing I had to do was to get my sauce going. This is how we make an awesome sauce for a steak (I love me some A-1, don’t get me wrong but I want to be fancy with this dinner). I took some beef stock from the store and some cheap cooking red wine and placed them into separate pots. I used the whole little bottle of cooking red wine in one pot and then about 2 cups of beef stock into another. I turned the heat on under both pots at about medium high and let them reduce. As these two liquids reduce, I lowered my heat so that they didn’t burn and I could control how thick each liquid became. When they reduced by about 2/3’s, I combined them into the same pot and continued to reduce until I got to the flavor I wanted. Check for the salt content on this if you bought a salted broth. If you have, no worries, a simple fix is to add some juice (not even joking!), the sugar in the juice will counteract the saltiness that may result. Once you get to a thicker consistency, pull the pot of sauce off the burner and let it hang out.
Next I have to get my potatoes going, which I boiled (we all know how to boil potatoes right?) but I took this time to add some flavor to my potatoes to make them even more delicious and tasty! I threw in some fresh thyme, dried bay leaf, and garlic clove into my well salted water and potatoes. Let those babies boil for about 30 minutes or until they are tender and bam!, drain them. Feel free to get rid of your “essences” (i.e. herbs and garlic), we won’t be needing those. I also warmed up some milk and butter to add to these amazing potatoes. I like to make my mashed potatoes with milk, butter, and sour cream! PLEASE do not ever tell me to make my mashed potatoes healthier; you cannot kid yourself into thinking the “healthier version” is just as delicious as the full fat kid version! The key to healthy living, is having these fatty delicious dishes in moderation! I maybe have mashed potatoes 2 or 3 times a year, I can afford sour cream in my mashed potatoes thank you. Anywho, I make my mashed potatoes in my Artisan Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment and mash the living daylights out of them. Once they are fairly broken up, I just add the milk, butter, and sour cream until I reach the consistency AND taste that I want!
While the potatoes were doing their thing, I took out my filets to let them warm up just a bit… WOAH MARLEE!!!! You’re letting RAW meat sit out?! Do you want to get sick?!… Settle down health department! In order to have tender meats, you need to let them take the chill off by sitting on your counter for maybe 5-7 minutes so that you don’t shock the meat going from frigid temperatures to scathing hot. You gotta let the protein structures loosen up and relax before you put them in a hot pan for you to enjoy a nice, tender, piece of meat. Season your meat well while it’s warming up with some salt and pepper. In this application, this is all you’re going to need because you’ll be adding more flavor later on! When I took out my meat and let it set, I got my stainless steel pan (please kids, leave the non-stick pan in the cabinet where it belongs) out, put it over medium heat and brought up some olive oil to heat in the pan. I seasoned my filet with just good ol’ salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I also took out some fresh thyme, a smashed garlic clove and 1 ounce of butter. You’ll see where I’m going with this later. Once my meat had loosened up a little and was seasoned, I added it to a nice, hot pan! Snap, Crackle, and Pop is all you should hear when you put meat into a hot pan; if your pan isn’t hot enough, you won’t get a good sear on the meat which means there won’t be a texture difference in the meat… you need that crust!
Let your meat do its thing for a bit, don’t fuss over it! Because I like my steak medium rare, I let it sear (at least a filet) for 4 minutes on one side before I flip it over. If you like yours to be cooked more, cook for a few minutes longer. After my steaks had been cooking for a good while, I flipped them and then something magical happened; I added thyme, garlic and butter to the pan! This is where we get lots of flavor for the steaks! You let the butter melt and the extracts from the thyme and garlic to seep into the butter and oil and now the steaks get introduced to that flavor! Now take a metal spoon and start ladling the melted butter over the steaks with the pan titled; tilting the pan will help the melted butter pool at the bottom of the pan while keeping the steaks, garlic and thyme out of it! Spooning this butter over the steaks not only helps flavor your meat but because the butter is hot, it helps to cook your meat a bit more evenly than just have the heat come up from the bottom. I would occasionally put my pan back down so that the bottom could heat back up and then I would begin to ladle the melted butter over again. Once I got my steaks to the temperature I wanted (medium rare or just a bit under), I pulled them from the pan and let them rest. Now if you have seen any cooking shows, they’ll always tell you to let your meats rest after they’ve finished cooking. I pull my meats just before they’re to the temperature I want because there is going to be some carry over cooking going on. You can have a perfect medium rare steak in the pan and then after you let it rest, it’s now up to a medium… Sad. So pull your meats just before they’re at your desired doneness so that they can rest to the desired doneness… also so that they juices can redistribute through the meat and not be like Niagara Falls on your cutting board.
While I waited for my pan to get hot and my meat to warm up a bit, I got my asparagus ready. My oven had been preset to broil so I was good to go there; I just wanted to trim up my asparagus so that the woody ends didn’t ruin my dinner and went the extra step of peeling the first ½ of the asparagus skin off. You don’t have to do this, it’s just for aesthetics; I just wanted to be fancy. I tossed the asparagus with some nice EVOO, salt and pepper, and minced garlic and threw it into the oven to broil until it was done, no more than 12 minutes.
You might be noticing that I’m using all simple flavors here for seasoning my meal and you are correct! Every aspect of this meal has a beautiful flavor of its own that I don’t want one overpowering the other; I want to be able to taste my asparagus WHILE I have my mashed potatoes in the same bite! These elements need to complement each other, not compete with one another.
When the asparagus was done, I turned my oven from broil to 350 degrees because now I have to bake my bread pudding. I quickly spritz my ramekins with cooking spray and spoon the bread pudding mixture into the ramekins, put the ramekins on a sheet tray and throw into the oven for about 30 minutes.
Voila! That’s how I did my Valentines dinner! It was a lot of work but when you begin to work methodically, i.e. what is going to take the longest or what can I get started that won’t require a lot of attention so I can work on other things, things don’t seem so daunting and you’ll see that your meal comes together around the same time. It’s all about time management and learning how long certain foods take to cook. It seems like it was a hefty menu and it was but because I prioritized well and planned effectively, everything came together at the same time which meant dinner was served hot!
Feel free to share with me your executions of dinners!