Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.
Today: This Valentine's Day, skip the reservations and make the perfect date-night dinner for two at home instead.
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It's almost Valentine's Day. Do you know what you're having for dinner? A reservation, you say. Yes, you could go out to eat and join the legions of others who will be doing the same -- or you could have dinner at home.
I have easily made this dish a thousand times. It was by far the most popular dish at the little French bistro where I had my first job as a line cook; we made it night after night after night. Bear with me as I walk you through it.
Here are some tips to ensure a successful Valentine's dinner:
1. When it comes to beef medallions, make sure you buy a filet with nice marbling; there should be white polka dots of fat on the filet's flat side. And always ask what grade it is; I say this because if your butcher says they don't grade tenderloins or filets, you should run. That being said, the "select" or "choice" grade will suffice as long as the marbling is good.
2. The night before you cook dinner, or at least the morning of, place the medallions on a cooling rack set over a sheet tray with edges. Season the medallions with salt, then place them back in the fridge uncovered to let them pseudo-dry age. This way, the medallions will caramelize more quickly and more deeply, giving you a better chance at cooking them to the correct temperature. And since the salt will penetrate the meat, the medaillions will retain moisture and become much more flavorful.
3. It is difficult to cook a two-ounce medallion to the right temperature, so if you don't feel comfortable with this technique, use three- or four-ounce medallions. The key to cooking them properly is air drying and a very hot, heavy-bottomed pan. Just don't use cast iron, because you will be deglazing the pan, and all the black bits that end up in your sauce won't be pepper, but rather the seasoning you spent years building up.
4. When adding alcohol to a hot pan, always remove it from the heat first, then pour in the booze. It will still flame (or maybe not) when you put it back on the heat, but it will be much more controlled. Don't burn the house down making dinner.
5. Optional things: Don't have Madeira? Use dry sherry, Marsala, or dry vermouth. Can't stand mushrooms? Omit them. Maybe add a splash of cream and a teaspoon of prepared horseradish to the sauce instead. Still not satisfied? Try brandy and green peppercorns.
To round out my Valentine's dinner menu, I would make a simple but flavorful salad, and for dessert, pots de crème. The pots de crème can be made up to three days in advance and kept chilled. In the quest for a seemingly effortless Valentine's Day dinner at home, this allows you to cross one more thing off the to-do-list.
2 fistfuls of haricots verts, trimmed 1 gallon of water 1/4 cup kosher salt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Medallions and Madeira Sauce
Six two-ounce or 4 four-ounce beef tenderloin medallions (whatever you feel comfortable with cooking to medium rare) 1 1/2 cups shiitake, portobello, and oyster mushrooms, stems removed from the shiitakes and all of them cleaned and sliced thinly 2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced Canola oil Unsalted butter 1/3 cup Madeira 1/2 cup homemade beef stock or low sodium store-bought broth 2 teaspoons beurre manie (equal parts flour and unsalted butter, creamed together and then chilled) 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).