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Leaders in Family Matters

Valentine’s Dinner for Two!

Fork, Spoon, Heart

So, Valentine’s Day is coming up.  I am personally not a fan but I am a fan of food and cooking a gourmet meal is not as hard as it sounds.  

Let me begin by saying that in many walks of life, “gourmet” food gets a bad rap.  Somewhere along the line (and I am not a food historian) fancy food did not do what food should do which is – to satisfy your hunger.  I recognize this but let me give you a little background about myself and why gourmet can be impressive and fill you up.   

I’ve had an interesting life.  Once upon a time I worked for a fancy restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada.  If any place in the United States sets a standard for food and service, it's Vegas.  It was during these years that I learned how easy it is to make good food taste amazing.  I believe it was Gordon Ramsey who said: “Let food taste of itself.”  This means don’t over season or try to make a vegetable taste like something other than what it was meant to be.  Food can sing if we let it.  

This takes me to some pro tips that can take your cooking from meh to WOW.   

First, start by researching your recipes.When I want to make something impressive but not spend a million years or dollars cooking it, I begin by going to the Great Wide Web and getting ideas.  A classic for Valentine’s Day is the Fillet Mignon, maybe some seafood, a “Royal” mash and roasted vegetables.   

Once you’ve researched the recipe you want to make, read it through a couple of times.  It helps to know the steps by heart before beginning.   

Seek out quality ingredients – IT MATTERS.  A frozen steak is not going to taste the same as a fresh cut.   When it comes to choosing a choice cut of meat, I suggest looking for at least a 2-inch cut.  Most grocery store steaks are 1 inch.  A 1-inch cut does not allow you to get that perfect temperature as it generally cooks too quickly to get a good sear on the outside of the steak.  Look for good marbling in the steak as the fat content is what helps with the flavor.  

Before you go to cook the steaks, consider your cooking method.  Is it a cast iron skillet, a grill, or an oven?  Practicing with your cooking method is essential to know how your equipment works and to respond to temperature variations.   Martha Stewart had a great tip – although it is a bit excessive, I must agree there is no substitute for experience – the tip:  cook the entire meal before the big day for yourself and then you know what the food will taste like and you can manage any variables in the cooking process. (She would literally cook and entire Thanksgiving meal the week prior to Thanksgiving to “test” it out).    

Also, make sure your pan or grill is ripping hot before the steaks go on.  The idea is to sear the steaks so that the juices stay in the meat for maximum flavor.  If you are using a cast iron skillet, add oil after the pan begins to smoke slightly.  When you go to add the steaks, lay them down away from you to avoid any hot oil splashing back at you.  

Seasoning is KEY! Most times a simple salt and pepper is all you need.  In this case, I would salt and pepper the steaks and let them come to room temperature before cooking.  Big cracks of pepper and both small and larger kernels of salt help to bring out the flavor in the meat as it cooks.  

Look up Gordon Ramsey’s method of cooking a steak in garlic and thyme – it is otherworldly.  YouTube has that video and a million other instructional videos on the proper cooking of steaks.   

It is so important to let your steaks have a rest after cooking.  After all, they did all the hard work, giving them at least five minutes on a plate, and covering them with foil to stay warm. This redistributes the juices for an even color and flavor.  Cutting into the steak too soon will cause the juices to run out of the steak, leaving it bland and dry.  

I am currently in love with Scallops.  These lumps of succulent seafood are so easy and quick to prepare perfectly that it begs the question: Why not include them?  In this instance, fresh is always better, but many of us deal with IQF Fish – Individually Quick-Frozen Fish.  Those of us who don’t live on the coast are subject to having our seafood frozen and then shipped to us.  While this does impact the flavor, my little method of cooking scallops seems to come to the rescue.   

It is very simple:  

Take 4-6 medium scallops.  Thaw them and season them with salt and pepper.  Let them come to room temperature before cooking.  I use a cast iron skillet for this.  Heat the skillet to high, the same temp you might use to cook the steaks.   Once smoking, add a small drizzle of olive oil and small amount of butter.  It is essential that you do not have too much oil and butter in the pan as this will cause the Scallops to boil rather than sear.   The butter will brown. The oil should stop it from burning.  This is a quick process though so be on your toes.  Once the oil and butter go in, swirl them around the pan so that the pan is evenly coated.  Add the scallops one by one quickly.  I generally set a timer for about one minute or a little longer depending on the size of the scallops.  After that period of time the scallop should be brown and crusty on the cooked side.  Flip it and do that again.  Once the second side is seared, remove the Scallops, and put them on a plate with a little micro green garnish, or place them next to the steaks to rest for a moment or two before serving. (Garlic and lemon butter is a fabulous addition to this recipe, make a butter sauce and with a spoon lightly drizzle the sauce on the Scallops before serving).  

 The scallops would be the last thing I cooked before serving.  They should be crusty on the outside, but perfectly succulent on the inside.  This may take a little practice, but it’s not hard once you get it down and it adds a lovely “wow” factor to any meal.  

Next, find a recipe for your potatoes and vegetables.  A “royal” mash is simply mashed potatoes that are so silky smooth that you cannot find a lump.  They are traditionally made with a lot of crème and butter.  I mean, how can you not love that? Season (meaning salt and pepper) to taste and then add a lump of crab or lobster on top, or mix in a light amount of black truffle shaving and/or oil for an amazing treat.  Be warned that truffle oil and whole truffles are very rich and a small amount goes a long way.  Also, truffles can be hard to find and be rather pricey, but for a one-night event, it’s worth it.  

I hope these little tips can help you create a night to remember.  Don’t be daunted by “fancy” food or “gourmet” recipes.  Most of the time, what we consider gourmet is the simpler way to cook food.  Bon Appetite.