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Special Valentine’s Day Steak Dinner – Filet Mignon with Cognac Cream Sauce

12 Feb

Decadent Steak Recipe

Last year for Valentine’s Day, D and I took a couple’s cooking class at ICE Culinary School in NYC.  The theme of the class was “The Great New York Steakhouse” and over the course of the evening, we learned how to make: Shrimp Cocktail, Clams Casino, Caesar Salad, New York Strip Steak, Filet Mignon, Pork Chops, Creamed Spinach, Truffled Mashed Potatoes and Almond Bread Pudding.  Everything was delicious and we left the class stuffed and excited to re-make the recipes at home.  Our favorite dish was, hands down, Filet Mignon au Poivre with Cognac Cream Sauce.  It’s not an easy dish by any means but it’s so, so good and the sauce makes this dish really special and also decadent.  We loved it so much, we’re going to make it at home on Valentine’s Day this year and open up a bottle of Quintessa wine that we bought on our trip to Napa last August.  Since the sauce is on the heavier side, I generally serve this dish with roasted veggies (like roasted squash and brussels sprouts seen here) to balance the steak out.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope you all like this meal as much as we do!

Filet Mignon au Poivre with Cognac Cream Sauce
(Adapted from ICE Culinary Class)
Serves 6

Ingredients
6 filet mignon, 6 oz. each
Salt & pepper
Canola oil
3 tbsp. butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup cognac (I use Hennessy)
2 cups beef stock, reduced by half (I use low sodium stock)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. chervil, minced (or use parsley, I can never find fresh chervil at the grocery store)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Heat a large, saute pan and add oil to lightly coat bottom of pan. In a small pot, heat beef stock until half of the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with one cup.  (This intensifies the flavor of the stock.)
3. Season the filets with salt and pepper just before cooking.  *The trick to perfectly seasoned steaks is to use ROOM TEMPERATURE steaks, pat the meat dry before seasoning, season immediately before serving, and ensure the saute pan is hot BEFORE you put the steaks on it.
4. Add the filets to the saute pan and sear both sides.  *The steak is ready to be turned over when it gets a crust on the bottom and doesn’t stick to the pan.  Patience is very important here – don’t mess around with/move around the steaks once you put them in the pan unless you are flipping the steak over.  It should take max 5 minutes per side.
5. Once you finish the steaks, put the saute pan aside and transfer them to a baking dish and put them in the oven until desired level of doneness.  Estimates are   10-15 minutes for medium rare, 15-20 minutes for medium, 20+ for medium well/well done.  The temperature should be no lower than 130 degrees if you’re using a meat thermometer.  *A trick we learned in class is to relax your hand and feel the tendon part of your hand between your thumb and pointer finger.  That is how a medium rare steak should feel when you poke the middle of the steak and it’s done.
6. When done, place the filets on a wire race and let rest for 5 minutes.
7. While the steaks are in the oven, prepare the sauce.  Using the saute pan that you used to cook the steaks (Pour out the extra oil, but DO NOT CLEAN IT – the “fond” – little pieces of meat that stuck to the pan – adds extra flavor to the sauce), add 2 tbsp. butter and melt over medium-high heat.
8. When melted, add the shallots.  Cook the shallots until translucent and soft.  This should take about two minutes.
9. Deglaze (take pan off burner) and flambe with cognac.  *Trick – to flambe, pour the cognac into the saute pan then tilt the pan slightly so the liquid drains to one side.  Move the saute pan over the burner and the flame should cause the cognac to ignite.  Off the burner, swirl the liquid around in the pan until the flame has burned off.
10. When the flames have died down, scrape the pan to free the brown pieces of fond.   Add the reduced stock and let cook until further reduced by half.
11. Add  the heavy cream and reduce by half again.  It should be thick enough now that it coats the back of the spoon you’re stirring it with.
12. Finish the sauce by swirling in 1 tbsp. butter.  Do this OFF the heat.  Season with salt and pepper.
13. Serve sauce over cooked filet mignon and garnish with chervil.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 package brussels sprouts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Crushed red pepper, optional

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Clean brussels sprouts (cut off hard ends, remove yellow leaves).  In a large bowl, lightly coat brussels sprouts with olive oil.  Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Spread brussels sprouts on a baking dish (cover with foil if you want to make clean up easier).
4. Roast in oven for around 40 minutes.  They should be crispy on the outside but still tender inside.


Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 whole butternut squash (or 6 pre-cut/cleaned/peeled butternut squash halves – you can find these at Fairway Market)
Cinnamon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 stick of butter

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. If using whole butternut squash, wash well then cut each in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and gunk inside squash and discard so just the “meaty” part remains.
3. Using your hands, lightly rub olive oil on both sides of squash.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.
4. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and place squash flesh side is face down.  Bake for 50-60 minutes (if squash is peeled) or 60-75 minutes if using whole squash.  It is finished when a knife can be easily inserted into the squash.
5. Melt butter and combine with maple syrup.  When squash has ten minutes or so left to cook, take it from oven and lightly brush squash with butter/maple syrup mixture.  The longer you cook the squash with the butter/maple syrup, the sweeter it will be.  The glaze will take around five minutes to set so that is the minimum cook time for the squash once the butter/maple syrup has been applied.
6. Remove from oven, cut each piece in half once more and serve immediately.

Decadent Filet Mignon Recipe

Christmas Treat: Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons

24 Dec How to Make French Macarons

How to Make French MacaronsIn 2007, I visited my good friend Kristen who was living in Paris at the time (lucky girl!).  One of my favorite parts of the visit was spending afternoons recharging at La Duree, a tea and pastry shop, after spending the mornings sightseeing, shopping and walking around Paris.  La Duree is most well known for their delectable macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons).  “Le macaron” is a French sweet consisting of two cookies that are hard on the outside but soft when you bite into them that are sandwiched between a layer of ganache or fruit preserves.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of “le macaron,” check out this website.  Until a few months ago, La Duree only had stores in Europe (Paris, London, etc.) and the Middle East (Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, etc.), so to get my macaron fix, I had to stock up when I visited Kristen or when I am in London for work.  However, La Duree recently opened up a NYC-branch of their famous Parisian tea shop at 864 Madison Ave. on the Upper East Side so now I can get macarons whenever the craving strikes (which is quite often!).  I always wondered how to make macarons until a few weeks ago I found a recipe for macarons from Allison Eats blog on the Word Press dashboard.  You can find my adaptation of her recipe below.  While I won’t be giving up La Duree macarons anytime soon, I can’t wait to serve these at Christmas dinner tomorrow with coffee or hot chocolate after dessert!  If you are new to making macarons like I was, the following sites provide a useful primer on preparing macarons and how to beat egg whites.  It took me two tries to get the egg  white perfect.  I would not recommend using an electric mixer; a copper bowl and whisk worked MUCH better.  Also, as a warning, this took me the better part of a day to create these treats.  Be sure you have set aside at least 3-4 hours when you tackle this recipe.  For more information on French Cooking and Culture, check out this great blog – A Woman’s Paris.  The watercolor iPhone cases are to die for!

Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons
(Makes 30-40)

Ingredients (for the macarons)
1 1/3 cup almond flour (fine meal)
3 cups powdered sugar
6 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Red food coloring (optional)

Directions (for the macarons)
1. Get out 5 baking sheets and line each with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw 1.5″ circles approximately 1″ apart on the papers.  I felt silly doing this, but it really helped me get the hang of things for my first tray, so maybe only do this for a couple of trays if you are short on time.  In the picture below, the right tray has 1″ circles and the left tray has 1.5″ circles.  I found that the larger 1.5″ macarons cooked better and were simliar to La Duree’s mini macarons in size.
How to Make French Macarons

2.  In a food processor, blend the almond flour and powdered sugar until well incorporated and no lumps remain.
3. In a copper bowl, beat egg whites using a whisk until they are foamy.  When they are foamy, add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue beating.  Gradually add in the granulated sugar about a tablespoon at a time.  Once the egg whites have formed “soft peaks,” add the peppermint extract and 30 drops of red food coloring.  (I added 20 drops of food coloring to my mix and I think it could have used a little more.)  Note: It is important that the egg whites are room temperature as this helps the “peaks” form in the egg whites.  The cream of tartar also helps this so don’t forget this step!

Egg White Foam

Egg Whites @ "Foamy" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

Egg White Peaks

Egg Whites @ "Peak" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture in a few additions.  Blend each time until well incorporated.
5. Fill pastry bag (or big ziploc bag with approximately 1/2″ cut off on a diagonal) with the batter and carefully dispense into your drawn circles.  Once the tray is filled, rap the baking sheet on the counter to help settle the batter.  Let trays sit out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that a slight crust forms on each shell.  Note: Letting the shells sit at room temperature before baking is a crucial step.  This is how you obtain the crunchy on the outside/chewy on the inside French macaron texture.
How to Make French Macarons
6. While the shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake ONE tray at a time for 9-12 minutes, until the shells are slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from trays.  (To me, they look the the image from the Scrubbing Bubbles ads when they are finished.)  Repeat process one tray at a time until all trays are cooked.
How to Make French Macarons
7.  Once the macarons have cooled, pair each shell with one of similar size and shape.  For each pair, flip one over so they are ready to be filled with the ganache.
How to Make French Macarons
Ingredients (for the ganache)
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used two 4-oz. Ghiradelli white chocolate bars and 2 oz. Tollhouse white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3 pieces

Directions (for the ganache)
1. Put the white chocolate in a heat proof mixing bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
3. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, stir ingredients together until smooth.  Then stir in the butter.
4. Place the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice water, stirring constantly until ganache is thick and won’t run.
5. Place ganache into pastry bag (or Ziploc bag with 1/2″ opening cut on diagonal at one end).  Work quickly so the ganache doesn’t harden.  Carefully pipe filling onto flat side of one shell, leaving space around the edges.  Pick up the filled shell’s empty pair and place it on top of the filled shell, gently twisting as you press them together.  Once all macarons have been filled, store in the refrigerator.  They are best enjoyed the following day when brought to room temperature.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Best wishes for a happy holiday and a blessed new year!

Travelogue: CA Wine Tasting

14 Dec
Poetry Inn Napa

View from the Poetry Inn

This past August, D and I went on a relaxing, wine-filled vacation to Napa.  Below is a travelogue of our favorite vineyards, restaurants and other points of interest during our trip.  We pulled together this itinerary through polling a handful of friends who are Napa experts and took the best-of-the-best from each.  These are all spots that we would go back to again despite there being nearly 200 wineries and tons of great restaurant options in the region.

Wine
Cliff Lede
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599
This vineyard names all of its plots of land after the owner’s favorite classic rock songs.  The two signature cabs this vineyard produces every year are called the “Poetry” and a special cab blended from the best two plots of grapes that season.  Each year the name of the latter wine changes based on the names of the plots from which the grapes are harvested.  For example, last year’s vintage was called Imagine Rhapsody after plots “Imagine” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The year before that was called Lonely Wizard named after “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Pinball Wizard.”  Totally gimmicky and kitschy, but we love it and we LOVED the wines too.  If you’re a modern art fan, there is also a small modern art and sculpture gallery on the property which was a nice touch to our visit.  Reservations are not required, but if you want to taste their signature “Poetry” cab, you will need to reserve a private tasting in advance.  Also, if you are in Napa for a really special occasion, be sure to book a room at their sister property, the Poetry Inn, a five-bedroom inn which is located up the hill overlooking the vineyards.  Each of the rooms is named after a poet (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, etc.) and are spacious and beautifully decorated with heated floors, private patios and an indoor/outdoor shower.  The hotel has stunning views of the wineries below and mountains across the valleys like the one of the sunset below.  The best treat of our stay was a three-course breakfast (included) that we had on our terrace watching the fog rise off the vineyards below.  Simply stunning!

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Pride Mountain
4026 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
A hidden gem in St. Helena. This was D’s favorite vineyard of our vacation. It is about a 15-20 minute drive away from most other vineyards in the area, but it was SO worth the drive.  Pride Mountain is located at the top of, well, a mountain and has stunning panoramic views of the hills and valleys below. Advanced reservations are required so make sure to connect with them before you trek up the mountain to their winery!  We signed up for what we thought was a $10 tasting, but ended up getting a private tour of Pride Mountain’s property, caves and tasting rooms.  Our guide let us do a barrel tasting and comparison with the finished bottle which was a unique experience.  After our visit, we were encouraged to drive around the property and have a picnic lunch with our sandwiches from Oakville Grocery in the vineyards overlooking the valley.  We bought a half bottle of wine and had the most relaxing afternoon in the shaded picnic area enjoying the scenery.

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Quintessa
1601 Silverado Trail
Rutherford, CA 94573
My coworker recommended this vineyard to us, describing the vineyard and tour as “magical”.  She could not have been more right.  Advanced reservations are required for this tour and while this was the most expensive tasting ($45), it was worth every penny.  We had a private guide who started our tour with a hike up from the estate to the vineyards where we were greeted with the stunning view in the picture above.  At this spot, our guide poured us Quintessa’s Illumination-brand Sauvignon Blanc while explaining biodynamic winemaking and Quintessa’s history.  Biodynamic winemaking can sound a little bit weird/hippy if you’ve never heard of it before (i.e., burying a cow skull full of manure at a certain place in the vineyard dictated by lunar patterns), but our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about it, that we were totally on board with the craziness.  After this history lesson, we returned to the estate and went on a tour of the building, caves and manufacturing areas.  The tour culminated with a private tasting (accompanied by three cheeses and homemade crackers) of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Quintessa red wine blends.  This vineyard is unique in that they only make one varietal per season and the blend changes depending on what are the best grapes produced that year; the rest of their harvest is then sold to other wine makers.  It was so interesting to taste the differences between the three vintages, especially after learning about the crops, weather and grapes used for each vintages.  All three tasted great and if I had unlimited funds, I would have bought a case of each home!  Instead, we settled on one bottle of the 2007 which was my favorite.

Quintessa Winery

Quintessa Winery

Schramsberg
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
If you like sparkling wine, this is your spot!  Reservations are required and the cost is $45 per person.  This vineyard was our first stop one day (10 am tasting!).  It was a great way to start our day of wine tasting since most wineries in Napa specialize in heavy reds.  Schramsberg became famous in 1972 when President Nixon served one of their sparkling wines at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing.  Since then, every U.S. President has served Schramsberg at the White House.  Our tasting began with a tour of the property, caves and manufacturing facilities.  In the caves, our guide taught us how to riddle, which is how champagne is produced.  We were then led into a tasting room where we tried EIGHT different sparkling wines!  It was almost too much, but in my opinion, there can never be too much champagne/prosecco/cava/sparkling wine! 🙂  The highlight of this vineyard for D was when our guide took out outside and taught us how to remove the cork from a champagne bottle using a saber.  Here’s a primer if you want to try this at home (which I don’t recommend since D had a bottle explode in his hand when he did…)

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine

Champagne Saber at Schramsberg

Schramsberg

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine Tasting

Kuleto Estate
2470 Sage Canyon Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
This vineyard isn’t one for the tour buses!  Like Pride Mountain, Kuleto Estate is at the top of a mountain; the last few miles of the drive are on windy dirt roads which keeps large groups away and builds anticipation leading up to the arrival.  Kuleto Estate is not just a winery, but is also Pat Kuleto (San Francisco restaurateur’s home).  The visit began with a generous pour of rose to accompany a tour of the property, herb garden, vegetable garden and flower garden surrounding Pat’s home.  We then returned to the main building and had a formal tasting with complimentary cheese and crackers.  I don’t remember the wines being anything remarkable, but the scenery and atmosphere were breathtaking.  Our tour guide told us the next tour was closed for a private proposal.  With the stunning panoramic views and intimate, homey feel of the winery, it’s no surprise someone picked this as a spot to get engaged.  What a lucky girl – I hope she said yes!!  Side note – reservations are required and the cost is $35 per person for a tour and tasting.

Kuleto Estate

Kuleto Estate

In addition to the vineyards above which I would highly recommend, we also visited the following wineries.  Let me know if you are curious about a particular one on this list.  It’s not to say we had a bad experience at any of these, but relative to the five wineries listed above, they couldn’t compare.

Siduri – Makers of the wine Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) drinks when he’s performing.  We did not get to taste this wine which was the whole purpose of our trip to this vineyard which was disappointing.  Also, the tasting is located in a warehouse since Siduri does not actually own any vineyards from which they produce their wines.
Martinelli’s 
Wilson – Makers of the Vineman cabernet which they must sell out of every year the Vineman triathlon (no affiliation) comes through town.  Very nice patio to enjoy a bottle (or two) of their rose.
Gloria Ferrer – Sparkling wines.  Gorgeous views.  Does not do tastings so you must purchase a whole bottle.
Beringer
Viader – stunning views (on top of a mountain); owned and operated by a female Argentinan which I though was cool
Failla – Winemaker Ehren Jordan’s private label.  Specializes in pinot noir.  Very relaxed/intimate tasting on the porch of a house.
Regusci
Cline – stays open until 6 (most vineyards close at 4 or 5) so the crowd can get rowdy later in the day.

Restaurants
Barn Diva
231 Center Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
The menu is 100% local – everything in the restaurant (food, wine, decor) comes from the region.  Healdsburg is about a 30 minute drive from Napa and Sonoma so it’s going to be out of the way unless you are doing tastings in Healdsburg/Wilson.  The desserts were particularly superb and they have a great wine selection.

Bottega
V Marketplace
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Italian cooking by Michael Chiarello of Top Chef fame.  This place was superb.  Be sure to request a seat in the covered outdoor patio by the fireplace.  The polenta appetizer and roasted duck entree were my favorites.

Auberge du Soleil, Napa

View from Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
We only had time to get drinks at this restaurant and luxury hotel, but hopefully we’ll be able to return for a full meal someday as I wanted to snatch plates right off the waiters’ trays as they delivered to our surrounding tables.  The outdoor patio is gorgeous place to watch the sunset after a long day of tastings.

Quintessa Winery Caves

Quintessa Winery Caves