Sunday, December 20, 2015

Filet Mignon with (homemade) Bernaise Sauce

If you're a true-blue red meat eater, then you'll probably agree that the very best cut in the butcher's case, is the Filet - or as it's also known - the Filet Mignon. When you find it on the menu in restaurants that tend to be known for their rendition of this delectable piece of beef, there can be some confusion about the name they use. Because the filet comes from what's referred to as the tenderloin section of the cow, the name given to the cut is usually determined by either the weight/size of the cut and/or the area of the tenderloin that the steak happens to be cut from. This can also vary from one country to another, but since I'm located in the US, I'll go with that one for demonstration purposes.

*Tip: If you do a search on the web for "beef cuts diagram (insert your country of choice)" you can easily find a diagram and an explanation of how beef cuts are determined in that particular country.

You can find a detailed explanation of the different cuts used in the US, HERE.

Source: Ask The Meatman
The above diagram shows how a whole tenderloin of beef is generally cut into different usable portions. (well... it's all usable, of course) So, this should help to explain why some menus might offer up a tournado, as opposed to a filet or a filet mignon, or why there might be a dish that highlights just the tenderloin tips. In the end, they are all parts of the same main cut of beef. (and of course, they're all delicious!) Now let's get on with the recipes, shall we?

This recipe is for 2 people, but it's the same method of prep and cooking if you're feeding 8. In all honesty, if the Hubbs and I are going to be doing that, we'll roast the whole tenderloin. The next time we do, I'll be sure to post it here on the blog.

The recipe for the Lyonnaise Potatoes that I served with this meal can be found HERE. I'll also include how I prepare the green beans at the end of this post.

Pan Seared or Grilled Filet Mignon
(Sauce Bearnaise Recipe To Follow)
  • 2 Filets, cut 1 & 3/4 to 2 inches thick, or approx 8 oz each
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Vegetable or Light Olive Oil
1. Remove the filets from the refrigerator about 20 to 30 minutes before cooking, in order to bring it closer to room temperature. Throwing an ice-cold piece of any kind of meat onto a hot cooking surface will cause the meat to seize up from the shock of the transition and this will significantly reduce the overall tenderness of the finished product.

2. Once the filet has reached room temperature, season it liberally on all sides with the kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Now, you might be tempted to add some kind of steak seasoning or marinade at this point. Please don't! Why is that, you ask?

Well, if we were cooking a less expensive cut of beef, like say... london broil, then that would be just fine. In fact, it would actually be a good idea. But, in all seriousness, why would you ever want to add a bunch of different flavors, that are only going to compete or (even worse) mask the true flavor of a glorious piece of beef like filet mignon? Besides, we'll have the luscious bearnaise to "complement" the beef when it's served and that's all you could possibly want or need in this situation.

3. If you are going to grill this outside on your gas or charcoal grill, you'll want to start the heating method, around the same time that you take the beef out of the fridge. With either type of grill, you'll want to have one area where you can use direct heat and another that you can move the meat to an indirect cooking space.

3b. In our case, we cooked this in the house, because it was the dead of Winter here in the Northeast. We're just not that big on cooking outdoors in 10° F temperatures on a deck that we'd have to shovel a path through knee-deep snow, just to get to the grill. Ha!

4. When cooking the filet indoors, the first thing you need to do is to preheat your oven to 400° F. Once the oven is preheated, place a heavy skillet or grill pan on your cooktop and heat it up to just below the smoking point. (That's pretty hot, but it's necessary to sear the meat well.) It helps to have an outside vented fan, or to at least be close to a window or door that you can open a crack to keep any smoke due to searing the meat, from setting off your smoke detector. (If you can reach it easily enough, you might want to temporarily disconnect it, if possible. Just don't forget to reconnect it, as soon as you're done searing!!)

5. (Only after it's heated) Brush a thin layer of vegetable or light olive oil over the surface of your pan. Filet is basically a very lean cut of beef and while you don't want to add a lot of fat to it, you do want to put just a thin barrier of oil between the meat and the very hot pan in order to keep it from charring too much or too quickly. The searing process is going to form a lovely brown crust on the meat as the juices caramelize while it cooks.

5b. So... that being said, using a pair of tongs, place the steaks in the pan. Even though you'll be tempted to turn the steaks in just a minute or two, allow them to cook on the first side for about 3 minutes, before touching them again. This is the start to that lovely brown crust that you know and love, on the steaks that you get at the high-end steakhouses. You'll find that this crust will allow the meat to release effortlessly from the pan. If it's stuck, it's not quite ready to turn. Repeat this process for about 30 seconds on all sides.

*Tip: (never use a fork when cooking meat, because piercing it will let all of the wonderful juices run out into the pan and not stay inside the meat where we want them.)

6. Once the steaks are all seared, place the pan in your preheated oven for about 5 minutes for medium rare (130° F to 135° F) or 6 minutes for medium (135° F to 140° F degrees).

Now, the last thing I want to do is offend any of my wonderful friends and readers, but if you want your steaks any more well done than that, you're on you're own. My whole life, I've been a medium rare kinda gal and the Hubbs is the same. The only time you'll ever see either of us order our beef cooked medium, is when we are ordering a hamburger. Medium well or (heaven forbid!) well done, especially when you're dealing with an amazing cut of beef like this, is pure sacrilege! Since it is Valentines Day weekend, for those who insist on cooking the meat further, I will at least give you THIS LINK, so that you can gauge the proper time and temperature.

7. When your particular cooking time is up, remove the pan from the oven and cover the steaks loosely with some aluminum foil. As is true with all meats, there will be a bit of carryover cooking during this time, so if you really like your steaks more on the rare side, you might want to take them out a minute or two earlier.

You can use an instant read thermometer if you wish, but we don't like piercing the meat at this point, because we want to keep every bit of juice in there that we can. Using one of those on a whole roast beef or chicken is one thing, but on a delicate steak like this... we'd just as soon go by our gut. (and past experience!)

Now... On to the sauce!

Sauce Bearnaise is our favorite of all of the classic French sauces ever created! I used to think it was something that only a classically trained chef could possibly achieve. That is until one night several years ago when I finally gathered up the nerve to ask the owner (and wife to the chef) of our most favorite of restaurants, if her husband could possibly share his recipe with us. In her lovely French accent, she asked me to wait just a moment and she would go ask. The sheer anticipation had me both giddy and terrified at the same time. After all, we'd been celebrating our most special occasions at this restaurant for many, many years and I certainly didn't want to anger the chef!

Luckily, my fears were completely abated, when she appeared back at our table with a small piece of paper in her hand. Yes, you guessed correctly! It was his recipe for Sauce Bearnaise! And I've been happily and proudly making it ever since! This wonderful man has since passed away, but his wife and children continue to run this amazing French bistro style restaurant that has served it's delectable food to many a celebrity, apr├Ęs races at the Saratoga Thoroughbred Race Course over the years. And I am now about to share one of my most very prized culinary possessions with all of you!

Sauce Bearnaise
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
  • 1 Lg Shallot, finely minced (or 2 small)
  • 3 Tbls Fresh Tarragon, chopped (heaping)
  • 1/4 Cup Champagne or Tarragon Vinegar
  • 3 Lg Egg Yolks
  • 2 Sticks (8oz each) Butter, cut into 5 pieces each
OK... So, this is not a low fat sauce, but remember that each person is only going to be using a couple of tablespoons in total. It's not something that you're going to eat every day of the week. (although once you've tasted it, you might want to. lol)

1. Finely mince the shallot(s) and chop the tarragon. I recommend that you do your best to get your hands on some fresh tarragon because in this recipe I truly believe that it does make a difference, but you can use dried tarragon if that's all you can find or have on hand. Just be sure to use only half of the amount that you would use of the fresh herb. As a rule, dried herbs are generally about twice as potent as fresh.

Most of the major chain supermarkets and stores like Walmart Super Centers carry these small packets of fresh herbs in their produce departments.

2. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, add your vinegar and shallots and bring them up to a simmer. Reduce by about half. You don't want it to boil too rapidly, because the reduction could happen very quickly and that could easily leave you with less liquid than you need. The mixture should be slightly thicker, or maybe a better description would be a little bit syrupy.

3. Once this is reduced, add in your tarragon and stir well to combine.

4. Separate your three eggs and place the yolks in a small bowl.

5. Taking the pot off the heat for a moment and with a wire whisk in your hand, carefully add one egg yolk at a time to the mixture and whisk it in completely before adding the next one.

6. You'll notice that the mixture is getting a little thicker with each addition. Once all three are whisked in, turn the heat down as low as it can go and place the pot back on the burner.

7. Begin adding the butter, one pat or piece at a time, whisking the entire time, until both sticks are fully incorporated. You'll notice that the sauce is going to keep getting creamier and a lighter yellow color as you go along.

8. Once you've finished adding the butter, season the sauce with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and serve right away.

If you can't serve the sauce immediately, it's important to keep it warm, while not scorching it, drying it out, or having it separate on you. This is the part about making homemade Bearnaise that used to make me all anxious and spazzy - especially if I was serving it to company. But, I've learned a few little tricks over the years that have taken all of the anxiety out of it.

Tip #1 Keep the pan covered tightly after removing it from the heat. Just before serving, preheat a burner to low (or turn on a very low flame, if you have a gas stove). Once the burner is ready, remove the lid, place the pan on the heat and begin whisking rapidly. If the sauce looks like it's about to separate, add a tiny amount (1/2 tsp) of very hot tap water and keep whisking. Repeat adding the tiny bit of hot water until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Tip #2 As soon as the sauce is done, pour it into a thermos. This should keep it warm for about 30 minutes, without it separating.

Tip #3 When all else fails, give your guests a fresh (and very large) glass of wine, quietly dump out the separated sauce and start all over again. It helps to have a spare shallot already minced, some extra tarragon that's already chopped and a couple of sticks of butter already cut into pieces. It really only takes a few minutes to make and if your guests are within sight of the stove, they'll be pretty impressed that you're just whipping up an uber fancy gourmet sauce, right in front of them!

The Sauteed Garlic Green Beans

In case you'd like to duplicate this meal exactly, I included the link to the recipe for the potatoes just prior to the filet instructions and here's a quick explanation of how I prepare the beans. I swear I could make these in my sleep, because they just happen to be one of my family's favorite vegetable sides. :)

These beans couldn't be more simple. They are washed, trimmed and blanched for 2 - 3 minutes in a large pot of liberally salted water, brought up just barely to a boil. They're removed from the pot with a large slotted spoon or strainer and immediately shocked in a large bowl filled with ice and water, in order to stop the cooking process. (This part can be done ahead and the blanched and shocked beans set aside at room temperature until you're ready to finish cooking them)

When the rest of the meal is just about ready, I place a heavy non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon or two of butter and 1 large clove of garlic that's been finely minced. (If you aren't a garlic fan, you can substitute about a tablespoon of finely minced shallots instead) The garlic is sauteed for just a minute, then I add the drained beans that have been patted dry with some clean paper towels to the pan and season them with 1 to 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of kosher or fine sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I then saute them for roughly 4 minutes, or until they are heated all the way through and are just barely tender, stirring frequently. Serve them immediately with your meat and potatoes.



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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nana's Apple Pie (The Last Apple Pie Recipe You'll Ever Need!)

There's a bit of a story behind the title of this post. You certainly don't have to read it. You can skip on ahead to the recipe instead and that's perfectly fine with me. You see, the "recipe" for this pie is not technically my own. It is my tried and tested interpretation of how I believe my grandmother (aka, Nana) made her apple pies. So, if you've decided that you want to learn the "behind the scenes" about the title of this post, then please read on.

My Nana (my dad's mom) made the best apple pie I've ever tasted. Honestly, there wasn't much that I can recall, that she didn't cook well. Her chicken and biscuits was to die for and her roast pork dinner with all of the "fixins", was just heavenly. Sadly, she was already quite elderly and had pretty much stopped making that type of "Sunday dinner" style food, by the time I was old enough to really take an interest in cooking. Although I never had the opportunity to sit in her kitchen and watch as she prepared those incredible meals, I did learn quite a bit from listening to my mother, aunts and cousins through the years, when they'd talk about what they had learned from her.

For instance... when I make chicken and dumplings, I cook my chicken the same way that Nana did when she made chicken and biscuits. I "fricassee" it, which is really just a fancy way of saying that I cook it low and slow. Instead of boiling it in water or broth, I pan fry or saute it over a medium low flame, until it's a rich (and tender) deep golden brown. Now, this method might take a little longer, but believe me... it's worth every second of any extra time that it takes and I honestly couldn't imagine cooking it any other way.

OK, what does chicken fricassee have to do with apple pie, you ask? Well, it's not so much about the dishes... it's about the woman who prepared them and it's about her cooking philosophy. She didn't use recipes and she didn't follow trends. She was the wife and mother of hard working, dairy farming men and she cooked the food that she knew would make her husband and three sons happy. Food that would keep them nourished and their stomachs full, as they worked all day and well into the night, to keep the family farm running. She cooked what they loved ...with love.

Her apple pie was no exception. My grandfather, my dad and his brothers liked their pie sweet and with lots of cinnamon and spices. Now, my Mom - God rest her - wasn't much of a baker, so she usually bought the "par-baked" Mrs. Smith's pies from the grocery store that you finished baking before serving. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with doing that.

But... (you knew that but was coming, right?) My Dad was a very picky eater. He was very much used to the way his mother cooked and I know he would have liked to see my mother follow in her mother-in-law's footsteps. He never openly shared his opinion about the store bought pies. He loved my mom and always appreciated what she did to keep the household running. He just wasn't one to openly criticize anyone. He did, however, have a, ahem... subtle way of making his feelings known about the pie.

He'd quietly go to the cupboard and get the sugar bowl and the cinnamon shaker. Then, when he got back to the table, he'd gently lift the top crust on the slice of pie on his plate and he'd sprinkle liberal amounts of both, all over the filling inside. When he was satisfied with the amount that he'd "enhanced" the pie's sweetness and the cinnamon content, he'd place the crust back on top and start eating his dessert. Of course my mother saw it, but she never got angry or upset about it. She never said a word at all. She knew that the last thing my Dad ever wanted to do was hurt her feelings. So, she'd just turn a blind eye and act as if nothing had happened and we'd all go on, happily eating our pie.

Anyone who knows me well, is aware that I was and always will be a bona fide, card carrying member of the DGS (Daddy's Girl Society). My Dad was (and still is) my hero, so when I started cooking in my early teens, the person who's praise I sought out the most and who I tried my hardest to make happy with the food that I cooked, was my Dad. So naturally, when I took on the challenge of making my first apple pie, I remembered that sugar bowl and cinnamon shaker and I set out to make an apple pie that my Dad would never need to quietly "doctor" up... ever again. What follows is the result of that mission - **with one little change.

I hope that you enjoy it, as much as he always did. :)

Nana's Apple Pie
(makes two 9 inch pies)
  • 10 Large Cortland, McIntosh or Empire Apples (I use a mixture)
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar (yes, that's the right amount)
  • 1 & 1/2 Tbls Ground Cinnamon (yes, that's right too!)
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Allspice
  • 1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 Tsp Grated Nutmeg (fresh, if you have it)
  • 1/8 Tsp Ground Cloves
  • 4 Tbls Butter, (one half stick - sliced/cubed into eighths)
  • 2 Pkgs of 2-count refrigerated pie crusts** (or your own homemade)
** When I have the time, I will make my own pie crust dough. But let's face it... at Thanksgiving time, I have so many other dishes to prepare, that I need every extra second I can spare. And after several years of stressing over it, I eventually turned to the refrigerated pie crusts. (sorry, Nana!) I always use the brand shown in the ingredients photo above, so I can't vouch for any of the others out there. But I can say that this one comes pretty darned close to the real deal and to be honest, I've never had a single complaint. Not even from my very picky, very vocal husband!

If you'd like to make your own pie crust, I use (and highly recommend) Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee recipe. It's tender and flaky and it's easy to make! You can find it by clicking HERE! Just remember that you'll need to double the recipe for two 9" double crust pies.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

OK, let's begin! Wash and peel your apples and set them aside. I always peel all of the apples first and then core and slice them. Once I get started, I'm pretty quick with this part of the process, but if you end up with a bit of oxidation (the browning that occurs when peeled apples are exposed to the air) it won't matter in the finished pies. You'll never see it once the cinnamon and other spices are added to the filling and the apples cook down in the pie.

I can't recall ever making apple pies with a single type of apple. I like to use a mixture of two, or even three, different apple varieties. We have dozens and dozens of wonderful orchards here in the Northeast and the predominant apple varieties that you'll find at roadside stands and in grocery stores here in upstate NY are generally Cortland, McIntosh and Empire, so it's usually a combination of those apples.

What you want are apples that are sweet, juicy and will cook down easily. Now, you don't want to end up with applesauce in your pie, (there is actually such a thing though) but if there's anything that drives me nuts, it's an apple pie with undercooked or chewy apples in it. I understand that this is a personal preference and you might like to have a bit of bite left to the apples in your finished pie, but if you want to recreate this exact recipe, I'd recommend you use a combination of the apple varieties that I mentioned in this post.

If you can't find these particular varieties where you live, just ask a local produce professional which apple varieties are native to your area and would be best for making pies and they'll let you know just what to look for.

I start by making four cuts around the perimeter of the apple, getting as close as I can to the core, without picking up bits of the seeds or hard membrane that exists around it. You'll know if you've cut too close to the core because you'll see and feel the rigid membrane when you lightly run your finger over the cut side. If you do feel it, just take a very sharp knife and scrape the area, until you no longer feel it there. It shouldn't take much.

After you have the "meat" of the apple off, you can either toss the cores in your compost pile or give them to someone who has one. Or, you can put them in your freezer in zip-top bags to be used at a later time to make fragrant "simmer-pots" that will make your house smell like you've been baking, even when you don't have time! The aroma of apples, mixed with whole spices and maybe a bit of citrus peel, placed in a pot of barely simmering water on your stove top, can be a lovely thing to experience throughout the Fall and Winter seasons! Ahhhh...

When the apple is peeled and the larger pieces removed, lay those pieces, cut side down, on your cutting board and slice them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. They don't have to match exactly. You just want to keep them all relatively close to the same thickness.

Once all of the apples are sliced, place them in a large mixing bowl that has plenty of room to stir them without the apples flying out of the bowl. lol

*Before adding the sugar and spices to your apples, prepare your pie plates by adding the bottom crusts to each one, so they'll be all ready for the filling and the top crusts.*

Add your sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves and give it all a good toss, making sure that all of the apple slices are well coated with the mixture.

Yes... I really do use that much cinnamon! Trust me.... it makes a wonderful pie!

When the spices are stirred in, sprinkle your AP flour over the top as evenly as you can. I don't add the flour with the sugar and spices because I find it has a tendency to clump up that way. Trust me... you do not want any big chunks of dry flour in your pies.

Add the pinch of salt (1/4 tsp?) and stir it all again to incorporate the flour and salt evenly. You'll find as you're stirring, that the apples will begin to exude some of their juice. This is a good thing. A small amount of juice, mixed with the sugar and spices and the flour, will help the apples cook down and will create a nice thick coating of sweet, cinnamon-y goodness throughout your pies.

On the flip-side, too much juice can result in a very thin runny filling that will pool up in the pan when you cut it later for serving - plus it can make the crust soggy. Now, that just isn't good pie. The key to making sure this doesn't happen, is to not let the mixture sit for too long before adding the filling to the pans. Not more than a couple of minutes, really.

Quickly (and as evenly as possible) pour your apples into your two prepared pie plates, mounding the filling ever so slightly, then dot the tops of each pie with 1/2 each of the butter slices/cubes.

With the refrigerated crusts, there's usually just enough extra that hangs over a 9" pie plate for me to tuck the top crust underneath the bottom and then pinch them gently together to seal it all up.

I then use my left thumb, placed in between my right thumb and index finger to flute the edges.

(I couldn't hold a camera and do this at the same time, so in case you've never done this before, I found the photo below at Eating Well's website. It's a single crust pie, but it's the same technique. Mine never looks quite this perfect, but remember... practice doesn't always make perfect and that's OK! Hope it helps!)

Photo Source: Eating Well

Then, using a sharp knife, I poke a hole in the center and make 4 slices at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, starting about 1/2 inch from the center hole and ending about 1/2 inch from the fluted edge. I then sometimes make shorter slits in between those. This is functional (by letting excess steam escape from the  filling) and it's also decorative.

Place the pies in your 425 degree preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. I always put a sheet pan lined with foil on the bottom rack, to catch any juices that bubble over. Trust me... apple pie spillover is full of sugar and can be pretty nasty!

(Please excuse my very dirty oven - these photos were from last Thanksgiving and there had been 2 massive & very spattery - is that a word? - turkeys cooked in them just a short time before.)

Allow the pies to cool for at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving. This will allow the filling to set up a bit so that it doesn't run out all over the place when you cut a slice.

Slice up your pie as needed and serve on it's own - or with your favorite apple pie topping. Some like whipped cream, some like a big slice of cheddar cheese. Our absolute must around here is, hands down, a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!



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