When I teach a cooking class for guys, I've learned that their "special" recipe usually translates as "something I had to learn in college to keep from starving to death."
Trust me, guys, you need to learn a new dish. Lucky for you, I have just the answer. This recipe has everything you need to sweep your lady off her feet. It has drama, excitement, fancy French words and, most of all, deliciousness. This Valentine's Day, you will be making Steak Au Poivre (pronounced: Oh-pwah) with Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Sauteed Asparagus (pronounced: Dee-lish-ush) followed by a Fresh Strawberry Cocktail.
Read the recipe all the way through and get all your ingredients ready before you start to prep and, certainly, before you start to cook. Being prepared will make everything easier, and you will get to impress your girl with another bit of Frenchy-speak. Having all your stuff in the right place is called "mise en place," (pronounced: Mees-ohn-plaz) which literally translates to "putting in place."
Make sure that everything is finished at the same time. I recommend that you cook the potatoes ahead of time and heat them in the microwave while the meat rests. You should also blanch your asparagus ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until just before you saute them. By preparing your starch and side ahead of time, you also give yourself some room for error. If you burn the potatoes or over-blanch the asparagus, you can always just start over. Your dessert is quite easy and will just need to be assembled. This way, you can enjoy the whole meal together and not have to worry about getting up and spending time in the kitchen while your date waits alone at the table.
Before I turn you loose in the kitchen, I have a few tips:
• Buy flowers. Big bunches of flowers. Don't be cheap.
• Buy chocolates. Fancy ones from Nandy's. Again, don't be cheap.
• Buy a card. Incredibly, the sappy sweet ones are better than the funny ones. Don't be clever.
• Buy a gift that is not lingerie--something that sparkles. Don't be a pervert.
• Light candles--new tall ones, not smelly ones in a jar. Don't be cheap.
• Put on music. Something she likes. Make her a CD of all the music from the night. Don't be lazy.
• Clean up your house--the whole house, including the bathroom. Don't be gross.
• The word "flambe" is only for your date's ears. When you speak to your insurance adjustor, supplement the phrase "faulty wiring."
Lobster Whipped Potatoes
2 large russet potatoes
1 tablespoon lobster base*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
2 green onions
Peel and cube potatoes. Set milk out and allow it to come to room temperature. Finely chop green onions.
In a large saucepan or medium stock pot, cover potatoes with cold water, add one teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until potatoes are tender enough for a knife to pass through with little resistance, about 12-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Drain all but 1/4 cup of water from the potatoes and return the pot to the stove. If you can't determine this amount by "eyeballing" the liquid, remove 1/4 cup of the hot water, set aside and then drain the potatoes completely and return the reserved water to the pot. With a potato masher or ricer, mash the potatoes until all the lumps are gone. Add lobster base and butter and stir thoroughly. Slowly add the milk, a little bit at a time and whip with a wand mixer while the milk is added. You may not use all of the milk before the desired consistency is reached. When the potatoes are velvety and completely lump-free, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot and top with chopped green onions.
1 bunch asparagus
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pitcher ice water
Thoroughly wash and rinse asparagus stalks. Pick up each piece (gripping the base and the upper 1/3 of the stalk) and bend it until it breaks. Repeat this with all of the stalks.
Fill a large saucepan with water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a light boil. Add asparagus spears and cook for about two or three minutes. When they turn a brighter shade of green, remove them from the boiling water, place them in a large mixing bowl and cover them with ice water. Once they have cooled, drain the water and set them aside, covered, until ready to cook.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil. When the butter melts and begins to foam, add asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Cook until hot and still firm, tossing frequently to ensure even heat.
Serve hot and drizzle with lemon juice.
Steak Au Poivre
4 beef tenderloin fillets (1-1/2" thick)
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 cup cognac
1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch parsley
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees and put dinner plates in the oven to warm while prepping and cooking. Set the steaks out for one hour before cooking and allow them to come to room temperature. Place the peppercorns in a plastic bag, put the bag on a cutting board and cover with a dishcloth. Crush the peppercorns with the bottom of a small pan or skillet, and spread the crushed pepper on a dry plate. Season the steaks with a pinch of salt each and press them (both sides) onto the plate of peppercorns making sure that they are evenly coated with pepper. Finely chop parsley.
Heat a heavy skillet (black iron is best) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter. When the butter starts to smoke, add all four steaks and cook for four minutes on each side (medium rare). Remove the steaks from the pan and set aside under a foil tent.
Return the skillet to the heat and add all but a dash of the brandy. When the brandy begins to bubble, ignite the liquid with a long match or stick lighter. Slowly swirl the brandy in the pan until the flame goes out. Don't stick your face in the pan to see if it is burning--it is, and less appetizing than the smell of burned hair. Make sure the vent is turned off when you do this so as not to send flames into the vent and burn down your house (see tip 6 if this fails). Slowly whip the cream into brandy reduction and stir frequently until the sauce thickens and reaches a velvety consistency (usually four to five minutes). Add the remaining brandy (no more than 1 teaspoon) and stir before serving.
Serve on warmed plates, with the edges of the steaks leaning on the whipped potatoes. Drizzle the sauce over the top and around the base of the steak. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Fresh Strawberry Cocktail
10 large fresh strawberries
1 pint pineapple sherbet
2 mint sprigs
Rinse two martini glasses in cold water and place them upside-down in the freezer at least one hour before dinner.
Leave the green top on two of the strawberries and remove it from the rest of them. Slice the leafy berries half way up from the bottom and toss them in powdered sugar.
Remove the glasses from the freezer and scoop in a large spoonful of sherbet. Add strawberries on top of the sherbet and stick the leafy, split berries on the side of the glass. Serve immediately and when the glass is on the table, fill half way up with champagne.
To make the whole meal tie together, splurge on a nice wine and a bottle of bubbly. Wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good. Don't get creative; just follow the advice of the people who know what they are talking about. The wrong wine can really mess up a good meal. I called my trusted experts, Tasho and Robert from Kat's Wine Cellar, and they made the following pairings. For the main course, either 2005 Marques de Casa Concha (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile $18.98) or 2006 Ramey Claret (Bordeaux Blend, California $37.98). For the Dessert, either Montsarra Cava Brut NV (Spain $15.87) or Duval-Leroy Brut NV (France $36.98).
This timeline assumes that your date will start at 7 p.m. and that you'll serve dinner around 7:30 p.m.
Buy flowers and put them in the fridge
Made Valentine's Mix Tape (It's really a CD, but I grew up in the '80s)
Buy all groceries and wine
Set the table (placemats, real cloth napkins, knife and spoon on right, fork on left, water glass, wine glass, champagne glass)
Put candles on table
Sign the card
Practice setting the brandy on fire so you will look cool and not panic.
7:30 a.m. - Before you leave the house, put some water in a vase and put it on the kitchen counter.
Noon - Use your lunch break to make sure you have everything on your list. Shop as necessary to get the stuff you forgot.
3:00 p.m. - Call your date to tell her how excited you are about cooking her dinner. Be casual about it like you are capable of doing this sort of thing on any given weekday.
5:00 p.m. - Come directly home from work. Do not grab a beer with the guys. You will need the time.
5:05 p.m. - Shower and brush your teeth. Put on a very small amount of aftershave. Get dressed in something other than old jeans. Make sure your shirt has a collar and does not have any writing on it.
5:30 p.m. - Put on an apron (I'm serious) and start the prep/cooking process.
Get all of your ingredients (except for the sherbet) out of the fridge and put them in categories (meat, vegetables, starch, dessert) on the counter.
Open the wine (not the Champagne).
Rinse the martini glasses and put them in the fridge.
Make sure the meat is not still in the fridge.
Blanch your asparagus, chill them and put in the fridge covered in plastic wrap.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, and put the plates in to warm.
Cook your potatoes and keep them over low heat so that they stay hot and you don't have to worry about them while everything else is cooking.
6:30 p.m. - Make your plate of cheese, grapes and crackers and put it on the coffee table. 6:45 p.m. - Put on the music.
6:50 p.m. - Put flowers and candy on the table at her place setting, the card and gift at your place setting.
7:00 p.m. - When you hear her at the front door, turn off your cell phone and the TV.
7:05 p.m. - Take her coat, offer her a glass of wine, offer her some cheese and fruit
7:10 p.m. - Tell her to make herself at home while you get back to the kitchen. Don't make a big deal out of what you are cooking.
7:12 p.m. - Return to kitchen and get to work.
• Stir the potatoes to make sure they are not scorching on the bottom.
• Start cooking the Steak Au Poivre.
• When you put the steaks in the pan, start cooking the asparagus.
• When you get to the part where you burn off the brandy, make sure she is in the kitchen. If she is still in the living room say "Hey, Honey, why don't you come keep me company while I finish the steak." Do not say "Come watch this! It is so cool!"
• The asparagus and the sauce should be done about the same time.
7:30 p.m.-ish - Serve Dinner
• Ask her to have a seat at the table, where she will see the card, the candy and the flowers. Offer to put them in a vase.
• With a hot pad or dishtowel, remove the hot plates from the oven. Do not burn your hand.
• If you do burn your hand, don't act like a baby. Suck it up, and get back to work. You can cry tomorrow.
• Think of the plate as a clock. The potatoes go on the plate first at 12. The Steak goes on the side of the potatoes at 1 with one of the pieces leaning on the potatoes. The sauce goes over the steak and in a little puddle around the bottom of the steak. The asparagus goes at an angle from 9 toward 5. Holding your hand about a foot above the plate, sprinkle parsley over the whole thing.
• Take off your apron.
• With a dishtowel or hot pad, serve her plate first. Return to the table with your plate and the bottle of wine.
• Eat dinner and don't talk about sports or old girlfriends.
• Clear her dish and yours.
• Remove martini glasses from fridge. Fill with strawberries. Slide the split strawberries onto the edge of the glass.
• Place martini glasses on table, open champagne (the quiet way, not the NASCAR victory podium way) and pour into the glasses.
• Give her the gift and the card.
• Be the hero!
Tom Ramsey teaches cooking lessons and is the founder of Ivy & Devine
I'm not a guy, but this is a fantastic piece! I look forward to reading more from you, Tom.
Maggie - Thank you so much! I've had a great time with the pieces I've done for the JFP. There will be plenty more to follow. You can also find more recipes and stories on my blog (www.tomramsey.com) and I think I am about to start writing on the JFP food blog as well. Bon Appetit! - Tom
- Tom Ramsey
Great piece, Tom. Now I just have to figure out the veggie substitute for the steak. ;-)
- Todd Stauffer
Todd - To quote "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Just use Lamb! I would use portabella mushrooms and cook them the exact same way, just less time. Then use a little bit of vegetable stock when you de-glaze the pan and use more cream since there will be no residual fat from the mushrooms. It should work well. Let me know if you try it! - Tom
PS: You and Donna would have been proud of me on Super Bowl Sunday. I made one whole dish with no meat whatsoever! Butterbean Cilantro Hummus. It was great.
- Tom Ramsey