There is nothing as powerful as sharing yourself; your time, your energy and your passion with the one you love.
To me very little can encapsulate this idea as readily as cooking a meal and, yet, I know few people who genuinely love cooking these days. It seems as though I’m watching an entire generation grow up in the shadow of fast-food and ready-to-eat meals. In fact, those two areas have been the source of almost all growth in food sales in North America for the past 5 years in a row.
And I’m trying to understand: the busy lifestyle, the need to continually be doing more… we all know that incomes don’t stretch as far as they used to and everyone is working just a little bit (or a lot) more than ever. You’re up before 6 to make it to work by 8 so that you miss the worst of rush-hour. Maybe you work through lunch or, if you go out, it’s for something quick. Then you’re lucky to be home by 6 and there’s just no time to make something from scratch!
Trust me – I get it. I’ve been there, in the trenches with you. It’s not easy yet I find myself pitying the busy-people more than a little. Why pity? Because these people have forgotten the joy one can find in cooking! The joy of creation, the joy of doing something well and the unabashed delight in putting a smile on someone else’s face… with something as simple as a cookie or, in this case, my Valentine’s Day’s menu.
I crafted this for the light of my life:
filet of beef tenderloin, local wild mushroom demi-glaçe
roasted local organic new potato
roast organic gold beets and butternut squash
steamed organic Swiss Chard
This is not a complicated menu and yet, should you go to your local steakhouse, no doubt you would be charged in excess of $30 per person just for this entree… and more like $45 when one considers that the entire menu is organic and/or local, seasonal. If I told you that the beef came from a local cattle rancher and was grass-fed and free-range, hormone and antibiotic free and dry-aged for more than 40 days then the price goes up again: $60+ in most markets and an easy $100 in Las Vegas.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to afford the $150+ for just the food in a restaurant, much less the $100+ bottle of wine I would want to pair with it. By the time the night is over you will have spent $300++ and no, for most people, that’s not easy. But my grandma told me once when I was very young “Christopher never give money as a gift, it is a poor way to show you care.”
So let me help you show you care. Let me share a few tricks-of-the-trade and you can make this meal for less than half the price (total cost for these ingredients for 2 people was about $50 CAD at Hopcott’s); you and your special-someone will appreciate it twice as much!
1. BEFORE YOU COOK
There are a litany of things that all chefs do before they cook and all of these little steps get generalized as mis-en-place, which means “putting things in their place.”
a) choosing the steak: notice how this beef is marbled; the fat is integrated right into the muscle meaning that, as it cooks, that fat will render and keep the meat moist. I got this from my local, artisanal butcher (Hopcott’s) and if you Google “local butcher” you’ll find one in your neighborhood as well
b) prepping the steak: bring that steak out of the fridge an hour before cooking to come up to room temperature before you fry it: going straight from the fridge to the pan makes for tense/tough meat. Pat it dry on paper towel to wipe away any excess moisture and allow for proper searing which locks in the natural juices. Season as you will; the better the quality the less seasoning I use… for this steak all I used was Kosher seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
c) heat your pan: seems like a “no-brainer” but so many people neglect to heat their fry-pan enough. How hot does it need to be? Leave it at medium+ heat for 10-15 minutes before you start to cook so that the steaks start searing immediately and never, ever crowd the pan or you won’t be able to keep the pan hot (the steaks should never touch)
As much as possible, everything that can be done before you start cooking should be done. Once again, this is a key element to mis-en-place because our goal in the kitchen is to ensure we can spend as much time focused on cooking our food as perfectly as possible.
So do it! Trim your veggies, dice your onions, set the table, open the wine – all before you ever start to cook the steaks. Now pour a half-glass of wine, start to sear the steaks, and enjoy the process! This is great cooking and these are the stunning wines I’ve sourced for you!
2010 Muga Reserva Rioja DOCa
91+ points, $25+ CAD
*DECANTING NOT NECESSARY*
…perhaps the most enticing aspect to this wine is the rich floral aromas it offers at the same time as the ever-approachable ripe red and black berry tones (think of a bowl full of raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries and black currants); hints of vanilla, warm toasty oak and peaty-earth round out the bouquet.
The palate is brisk enough to warrant food (medium+ zippy red/black currant acid) and the sultry/fine medium- tannin structure means you can enjoy this on its own, with food or even a great cigar! Bold flavors with a full, youthful expression mimicking the aromas are truly fantastic when one considers that the winery produces over 850,000 bottles of this: more of this is made than the total production of many small to mid-size wineries! Enjoy 2015-2020+ due to excellent construction.
…the only way this wine could be any better, more complimentary, with beef tenderloin is to grill that beef over a wood fire; the smokey tones of mesquite, applewood, hickory or whatever you use for your barbeque will play with the wines’ peaty/earthy tones and bring greater balance to the ample berry notes. The crispness/freshness of the acidity works perfectly with an unctuous sauce like demi-glaçe or a compound butter and the peaty/earthy notes will find unison with the wild mushrooms used in this example.
2011 Chaberton Estate Reserve Syrah
Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, BC
92 points, $31 CAD
**Silver/2014 National Wine Awards of Canada, BC**
*DECANTING NOT NECESSARY*
… there are producers in BC whose Syrah/Shiraz is easily on par with some of the top producers in the world. Dollar for dollar these wines can be compared to the northern Rhône valley (France), Barossa (Australia) or Colchagua (Chile) and yet, for the most part, they are unknown. But not for long! Chaberton Estates is just one of a litany of great Syrah producers and the wine speaks for itself; textured aromas rich with red and black berries (raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry), dark flowers (irises, lilies, roses), cinnamon bark, pink peppercorn all colliding with a stunning synergy.
The palate is brisk enough to warrant good food and yet balanced well enough to enjoy on its own; tight/focused full red currant acid frames a full/fine/chewy tannin structure that delivers an excellent concentration of flavors that mimic the bouquet. Excellent structure, this wine has the capacity to age gracefully for years and will continue to evolve: enjoy 2015-2025.
… this is a sophisticated wine; as such, pair it with food that is more subtle. Beef tenderloin is delightfully tender (hence the name) but rather lacking in flavor, especially when one compares it against cuts like a T-bone or ribeye. Let the musky, perfumed floral tones in the wine bring balance to the beef and elevate both! Savor the wine on its own or delight in how the fresh acid keeps the beef from weighing too heavily on the palate… the fresh berry tones will also balance the ultra-rich demi-glaçe.
2. WHILST YOU COOK
a) the pan: pan-searing steak is classic French cooking at its finest so don’t be afraid to emulate classic French methodology! We only drizzle a touch of oil (canola) on the steak before searing but otherwise it is a dry pan. This is important for purity of flavors as, if the oil gets too hot, it can impart unpleasant flavors on the beef.
b) turning the steak: Notice how I don’t turn the steak until it has seared perfectly on one side. How do I know it’s seared? It lifts easily from the pan! Now I just turn it over, spoon a healthy dab of butter on top to ensure it stays moist, and finish it in the oven
c) the oven and timing: I cooked this at 425F and, given the 1.5″ thick steaks, calculated approximately 90 seconds in the oven for every degree of “doneness”: RARE=90 seconds, MEDIUM RARE=3 minutes, MEDIUM= 4 1/2 minutes, MEDIUM WELL= 6 minutes, WELL=8 minutes… if you’re cooking for 5 minutes or longer, take a moment to spoon those lovely pan juices over the steak. It just takes a moment but makes the world of difference!
3. POST COOKING
I love cooking but I do not love cleaning. As such, I make every effort whilst cooking to ensure that when I’m done the kitchen is as clean and organized as possible. I want to enjoy my meal, savor every moment, and when it’s done take my wife and the remaining wine and curl-up on the couch. I can’t do that if the kitchen looks like a bomb went off!
So take a moment while the steaks are searing, the veggies are roasting, the sauce is simmering and the greens are steaming: clean a few utensils, scrub the cutting board, wipe the counter. And never forget to just soak your pans when you’re done with them! My clean-up, post-meal, is rarely more than 10 minutes because it was drilled into me from an early age: Clean As You Go!
The Pleasures of Valentine’s Day
So enjoy your Valentine’s meal and enjoy the process! You just might find it so addictive that you’ll want to be sharing that special feeling more and more often! And it truly is like anything else in life; the more you do, the easier it gets. It’s still work, even for chefs, but it is rewarding work. It’s fun work and the kind of work that I now share with my 3-year old daughter who comes and helps me season food or scrub veggies in the big sink. She loves organizing my dirty dishes and YES! That inevitably means that I clean up after her cleaning-up but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
My daughter gets excited about baking scones with Daddy. She grabs a chair to come help with dinner and gets mad if she’s shooed off. She actually enjoys helping to unload the dishwasher. Is our family perfect? Far from it. But – but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye, the swelling with pride, when she tastes something that she helped to make and I am so humbled that I helped her find that within herself.
This Valentine’s Day my hope is that you will remember: the most genuine happiness comes from knowing you have shared with the one you love and shared not just of your wallet, but of your self.
Many thanks to my friends the Hopcott family of Hopcott Meats (artisanal butchers) for the brilliant components for this meal; they truly are some of the best tasting, most tender, steaks I have ever had! And of course to Christopher Stewart Wines: importers of Muga for Canada and to Chaberton Estates of British Columbia for the generous sample bottles.
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