Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Meal for Mom

May 13, 2012

  • Pan-seared Filet Mignon
  • Mashed Potato Casserole
  • Grilled Asparagus
  • Almost No-knead Whole Wheat Bread
  • Peachy Canyon 2010 Incredible Red Zinfandel
  • Chocolate Pots de Creme

It seemed only right to plan a special meal for my special lady on Mother's Day. We had nothing particular planned for the day and neither of our two children, both grown, were able to be with us. Menu planning thus focused on things that Diane is fond of which made it pretty easy. Since I hadn't done much cooking the previous two Sundays I was looking forward to getting back into the kitchen, so I didn't feel a need to budget my time as much as I need to some weekends.

I've mentioned in this blog that Diane likes steak more than I do. I like it too but I'm not a big meat eater in general. I like the easy rule of thumb which says your meat portion should be about the size of a deck of playing cards. I had recently seen some recipes describing how to cook Filet Mignon which we both enjoy. Visiting the butcher at Whole Foods, I selected two "Beef Loin Tenderloin Steaks". These together weighed about 8 ounces and cost $22. To prepare them I used a hybrid of the two techniques I read about. I heated a cast iron skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. I patted the steaks dry with a paper towel and applied olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. They were placed in the hot pan and both sides were browned, taking about three minutes a side (and producing a fair amount of smoke, especially for the first side.) The pan and steaks were then placed in a 375° oven and the steaks cooked to an internal temperature of 125°, which should have been medium rare. They steaks rested while the other courses were completed and then served. The steaks were tender and delicious, very easy to cut and eat. They were, however, not medium rare, but probably medium. Still very good, though.

Mashed Potato Casserole was a new dish for us, but one I was confident Diane would like. At a dinner once we were asked what one food we would take to a desert island and she chose potatoes. (I chose bread ... I guess we both like our starch.) This casserole is essentially mashed potatoes that are then baked. There are some interesting ingredients, however, that normally don't go into mashed potatoes such as Dijon mustard, eggs, chives, and chicken broth.  Since I was cooking four pounds of potatoes I knew we would have a lot left over. Since our daughter Caryn, a vegetarian, was coming home this week for the summer,  I substituted water for the broth so she could help us with the leftovers. This may account for the end result as the potatoes were dry, perhaps the missing fat from the absent broth caused this. While regular old mashed potatoes might have been better (or Diane's favorite, baked potatoes) this does provide us with a convenient side dish for the rest of the week.

I learned to grill asparagus from our son, Caleb. A few years ago I had the pleasure of helping him prepare dinner for seventy or so guests at a party for the fiftieth anniversary of Diane's parents. I don't recall the full menu, but it included poached salmon, salad, grilled asparagus, and cheese cake. Since then, grilling has been my favorite method for preparing asparagus. It's easy to do and produces hot tender spears. You just coat the asparagus with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper, and cook it on a hot grill.

The bread was made using my standby no-knead recipe from America's Test Kitchen. Diane prefers whole grain breads to those made with white flour. I spent a little extra time shaping the dough so the boule would be nice and symmetrical. I scored the top using a tic-tac-toe pattern we saw being used at the Boudin bakery at the Disney California Adventure Park. (Though I could have made the cuts a little deeper, I think.) Probably because of the warmer weather the dough rose nicely, resulting in a beautiful loaf of bread with great whole wheat flavor and crispy crust.

We are not wine snobs by any measure. Our every day wine often comes from a box and we usually look for bottles that are on sale and cost us less than $10. For a special meal like this, however, I was willing to spend a little more. I looked at the Cabernets and Zinfandels at Whole Foods and selected a bottle from Peachy Canyon. I think it cost around $13, so the price was right. I chose this wine because we had visited the Peachy Canyon winery, which is near Paso Robles, on vacation a few years ago. We went on a wine tour, and since we didn't have to drive we were not so limited to how much we could taste. The Peachy Canyon wine was excellent and went very well with the filet.

Dessert had to be chocolate. With my recent discovery about how easy it is to make puddings, I remembered a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that I had in my file of things I wanted to try. This was probably the easiest pudding I've made yet. Chocolate (Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate, 60% cocoa) is broken and put into a bowl. The other ingredients – egg yolks, sugar, cream, half and half, salt – are heated on the stove with constant stirring, over medium-low heat to a temperature of 180°. This mixture is then poured through a strainer and over the chocolate. After five minutes it is whisked gently, a little espresso powder and vanilla is added, and it is refrigerated. As you might imagine, it tastes really good. I was a little surprised how thick it was, thicker than the puddings that I've made. One unfortunate aspect of the recipe is that it calls for 10 ounces of chocolate. Since chocolate comes in 4 ounce bars there were 2 ounces left over. Since, as everyone knows, it doesn't keep very well, we were forced to eat the extra  rather than letting it go to waste. Oh, the sacrifices we make.

Caleb and Caryn both called during the afternoon to wish their mom a Happy Mother's Day. I was busy in the kitchen cooking when they called, and so participated in the call using the phone on speaker. Each got a little play-by-play of a portion of the preparations: Caryn of dessert and Caleb of the potatoes and filet. So while they weren't here in person, they both were here in spirit and participated in the making of this special meal for mom.

Filet Mignon from Cook's Illustrated and 101 Cooking for Two
Mashed Potato Casserole from Cook's Country
Almost No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread from Cooks Illustrated
Chocolate Pots de Creme from Cook's Illustrated

Some America's Test Kitchen recipes require registration before they can be viewed. You may be able to find these recipes on other web sites.

1 comment:

  1. You are welcome to make this exact meal for me anytime. Sister's Day?