We all need some spice in our lives, am I right, ladies? What better day to heat things up than Valentine’s Day? Forget dropping a paycheck at a fancy restaurant that requires you to make a reservation last summer. Why not stoke the flames right at home? I’m talking some serious heat, guys…of the pepper variety!
Why not eat in?
On Valentine’s Day, Welly and I just really prefer to stay in and have a romantic “date night” at home. When the kids were younger we would feed them dinner and put them to bed a little early so we could enjoy our own dinner for two by candlelight. Now they just know to disappear upstairs after eating without us (I do always make 4 desserts so they can have some, too =) ).
I always choose a special dish to make for us, followed by little single serving desserts to enjoy with a cup of espresso. Our favorite indulgence over the years has been filet mignon. We’re lucky here in Vermont to have local organic pastured meat readily available. I love knowing where my food comes from and it feels good to buy local and support my neighbors.
The beef on filet mignon
Filet mignon (French: filet = thick cut, mignon = dainty) is cut from the tenderloin of beef and is very lean. There will be little marbling; lighter colored cuts have more fat and are, therefore, more tender than darker cuts. When cooked properly, tender really does describe filet mignon! Actually, rich and buttery are really much more descriptive. If you’ve ever enjoyed it, you know what I mean. But if you have never had it, well then now’s your chance!
Unlike many other cuts of beef, which require long cooking times to become tender, filet mignon actually does better with very little cooking. You don’t want to cook it any more than medium rare (which is too cooked, in my opinion). In fact, all you’ll really want to do is sear the outside in a screaming hot cast iron skillet. Yes, this means the inside stays very rare. For this reason, we need to make sure that the filets are brought to room temperature before cooking so the centers don’t remain cold after cooking.
Another way to ensure even warming throughout is to sous vide the steaks prior to searing them. I won’t go into sous vide here because it really does deserve a post all its own, but I did want to point it out as an option.
For Valentine’s Day this year, I’ve chosen to prepare filet mignon again. I was inspired to choose a HOT theme for our special meal this year because it has been so stinking COLD in New England this winter. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I find that I tolerate cold less and less every year. This year I have had a heck of a time getting warm at all, even when cozied up by the woodstove. Come back to me, summer! But I digress…
Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon
So the theme this Valentine’s Day is HEAT. And really, isn’t that appropos for a day celebrating love? Welly and I (and the kids, too!) love, love, love spicy heat. The more, the better. Chili peppers are a great way to add heat to foods, but so is black pepper, and adding a crust of cracked peppercorns to beef is a wonderful compliment to the meat’s earthy flavor. I talked about a dedicated coffee grinder or a spice grinder in my Magic Mushroom Powder post, and that grinder will come in very handy to chop up the peppercorns just enough. To give those deep flavors a bit of pop!, we’re going to top the filets with just a drizzle of balsamic and red wine reduction. Reducing the sauce thickens it and intensifies its flavor.
Spicy Red Velvet Mini Cakes
For dessert, I immediately thought of cayenne pepper, which you’ll find gracing the likes of Mexican hot chocolate and other yummy, spicy desserts. Cayenne was followed, naturally, by the color red in my mind, and that became Spicy Red Velvet cake. Mini cakes, actually, because that’s how I roll on Valentine’s Day. Tiny = romantic, right?
You may be surprised to know that Red Velvet cake was not traditionally frosted with cream cheese frosting, but with ermine frosting. Ermine is a cousin to buttercream, but instead of a base of sugar and butter, ermine begins with a base of flour, milk, and butter. Its flavor is similar to buttercream, but smoother and not nearly so powerfully sweet. I prefer old school, so ermine is my go-to Red Velvet cake frosting.
Dinner in a flash
Prepare the cake and cut out the hearts (or rounds) the day before. Stack them on a plate with little squares of parchment in between each one and cover with plastic wrap. Prepare the frosting the day before, as well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. About 30 minutes before you want to use it, take it out of the fridge, chunk it up with a knife, and allow it to come to room temperature. Or do what I do: once the frosting is made, spoon it into piping bags, twist the ends close and secure with rubber bands, and refrigerate. Pull the bags out of the fridge and let come up to room temperature. Frosting these little cakes is made much simpler by piping it on.
Take the filets out about 45 minutes before you intend to cook them. While they are coming up to room temperature, make your reduction. While it’s reducing, begin to warm your well-seasoned cast iron pan over low heat, then assemble your cakes and set aside. Turn the heat up to high under the pan and let it get very hot.
While that is happening, prepare the steaks with the salt and pepper. Your pan should be good and hot right about the time you’re ready to drop them in to sear. Make sure your range hood is set to overdrive because those peppercorns are going to smoke like the dickens!
Serve with a vegetable on the side (I’m planning asparagus), a dry red (rioja, carménère, or pinot noir are all big enough to stand up to the earthy, peppery flavor of the meat), and enjoy!
I hope you enjoy this red hot dinner menu and as always, I’d love to hear from you. What did you think? How did it come out? Did you make any changes?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
- 3 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 Tblsp honey
- 1/4 cup balsamic
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tblsp unsalted butter, cut into quarters
- 2 1- to 2-inch filet mignon steaks, allowed to come to room temperature for ~45 minutes
- 3 Tblsp black or mixed peppercorns, coarsely cracked
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tblsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add shallot and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
Add thyme sprig, honey, wine, and balsamic. Increase heat to medium high and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes.
Off heat, remove thyme sprig, stir in salt, and swirl in butter. Keep warm.
Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet first over low heat for about 5 minutes, then crank the heat up to high. You want the pan to be screaming hot for a nice sear.
Pat steaks very dry. Sprinkle both sides with salt.
Place coarsely cracked peppercorns on a plate. Place a steak on the peppercorns and press down to coat. Flip and do the other side. Repeat with remaining filet.
Add remaining olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. It'll get hot and shimmer right away, so go ahead and add the steaks now. Cook for about 2 minutes per side.
Remove to plates and allow to rest for a few minutes. Spoon reduction over each filet and serve.
- 2/3 cup cake flour
- 1/3 cup cocoa
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cayenne red pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- 2 Tblsp buttermilk
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1 oz bottle red food coloring
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 5 Tblsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a 12x17” jelly-roll pan with cooking spray. Place a sheet of parchment in the sprayed pan, allowing edges to hang over. Spray again with cooking spray, dust with flour, and tap out excess. Set aside.
Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, cayenne, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat egg yolks until beginning to lighten in color. Add ½ cup sugar and continue beating until thick and light yellow.
Add buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring and combine well.
Add dry ingredients to egg yolk mixture and mix until flour is just barely incorporated.
Remove bowl from mixer and give the batter a couple good turns with a rubber spatula to make sure the flour mixture is well-distributed. Remove chocolate mixture to large mixing bowl, clean the bowl the yolk mixture was in with soap and water, and dry. Change to whisk attachment.
Whisk egg whites till foamy. Begin slowly adding remaining 1/4 cup sugar until it is completely incorporated into the egg white mixture. Continue to whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture then spread batter into prepared pan, smoothing the surface well.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched in the center.
Carefully slide the cake off the pan and onto a cooling rack by pulling the parchment in one direction and the pan in the opposite direction. Allow to cool completely, then cut out 12 hearts or rounds using 3" cookie cutters.
Combine the milk and flour in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk constantly until thick. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Add vanilla.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture and beat very well until fluffy and light, similar to whipped cream.
Layer as follows: cake heart/round, frosting, cake, frosting, cake. Gently press each cake heart/round down over frosting as you go. Decoratively pipe additional frosting on top.