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The Chic Chef: A Date Night Dinner

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The chic chef header

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and we’re all looking for something special to do. However, V-Day happens to fall on a Friday this year, guaranteeing high prices, insane crowds, and well – not the most relaxing or romantic of circumstances. So, why not skip the mad rush and cook a homemade steakhouse dinner for that lucky man or lady in your life instead?

In this post, I’ll show you how to whip up filet mignon cooked “restaurant style,” creamy mashed potatoes, and spinach salad with a warm bacon vinaigrette. This is a (relatively) simple meal to make, but will impress the socks off anyone you cook it for. Even if you’re currently single (ahem, me, 99% of the time), this would be a great dinner to make your roommate on her birthday, a friend you want to thank for picking you up from the airport, or your younger sibling who’s in town for a college visit.

I’m going to go ahead and warn you about this upfront – filets mignons, even from Walmart, aren’t exactly cheap. They usually run around $25 a pound. The good news? You’ll need just a little less than a pound to feed two people. So, if you are cooking this for a significant other, suggest that they bring the wine or dessert – then you’ll both be contributing to your special meal.

Sidenote: Single ladies, be sure to check back next week – the post will be all about yummy party foods that are easy and fun to cook with friends. The perfect recipes for a Girl Power party, if I do say so myself.

Let’s get cookin’!

Restaurant-Style Filet Mignon

What You’ll Need

  • 2 filets mignons. Sometimes grocery stores (like Target and Walmart) sell portioned filets, but they often call them “beef tenderloin.” Another option is to go to the butcher section of your grocery store and have them slice you some, so they’ll be the perfect size. A 6 to 8 ounce portion per person is perfect.
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and pepper

How to Make It

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a frying pan, melt the butter and heat up a heavy pour of olive oil on medium high heat.

While the oil and butter are heating, remove the steaks from their package and pat them with paper towels until they’re super dry. Sprinkle both wide sides of the steaks with salt and pepper. I personally always use kosher salt and cracked black pepper from a grinder, but you can use whatever is in your kitchen.

Raw fliet mignon

When the oil and butter are simmering hot, use tongs to place the steaks in the frying pan. Let them sizzle and sear for 3-4 minutes, until there’s a lovely, crunchy-looking brown crust on the faced-down side. While the steak is sizzling, use a spoon to carefully pour some buttery oil on top of the steaks.

Searing steak in pan

After 3-4 minutes have elapsed, use tongs to very carefully flip the steaks over, and repeat the process on the other side.

When the steaks are done searing on both sides, put them in a baking pan (lined with foil for easy clean-up) and place in the oven.

Steaks on foil

My steaks were about an inch and a half tall, so 12 minutes in the oven left cooked them between medium and medium rare. If you have a thinner steak – between half an inch and an inch – I would check them after about six minutes. It really depends on how thick your steak is and how cooked you like them.

I decided to sacrifice my steak, and cut into it to make sure it was done to my liking. I sliced mine in half around 10 minutes, and saw that it was still too red for me. I put them both back in the oven for two more minutes, and they turned out perfectly.

Of course, it’s better to err on the side of undercooked when checking, since you can always put them back in the oven. However, if you do happen to leave them in the oven too long, don’t worry – it’s pretty hard to screw up filet mignon. This cooking method will keep the steak juicy, even if you prefer your steaks medium well or well-done.

Serve with steak sauce (or caramelized onions if you’re feeling fancy), but trust me – these extras are totally optional. The salt, pepper, and butter/olive oil browning will give it all of the great flavor it needs!

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

What You’ll Need

  • a bag of spinach salad mix
  • 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 strips of bacon (or skip the bacon steps and just use extra olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of honey or agave nectar
  • 1/2 a tablespoon of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

How To Make It

Yes, I’m suggesting that you buy a pre-packaged bag of salad mix. Why? Because it’s cheaper than buying a bag of nuts/bleu cheese/dried cranberries/croutons/whatever salad topping that you like to eat, but you will inevitably forget exists in your pantry.

Spinach salad kit

I went with this one because almonds, cherries, and bleu cheese sounded delicious, but you can go with whatever spinach mix you like.

Take your two slices of bacon and cut them into little strips. The French call these “lardons,” but let’s be real – we all know these crunchy bits of goodness as bacon bits!

Sliced bacon

Throw these suckers into a cold frying pan and cook them on medium for 12 minutes or so, until every piece is brown and crunchy. We ALWAYS cook bacon on medium. Remember this!

Scoop out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and let them drain on a paper towel. You should have about this much bacon grease (a.k.a. our magic ingredient) left in the pan:

Bacon grease

I’d guesstimate that’s around one to one and a half tablespoons of rendered bacon fat. And you know what? It’s freakin’ delicious.

Move the frying pan to a cool part of your stove, and add the olive oil, mustard, honey, and vinegar. Play up to your own tastes – if you like sweet salad dressings, double the honey. If you like really tangy dressings, use more vinegar. Extra mustard will help thicken it up. I almost always just eyeball the measurements rather than being exact. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and dash of pepper, too.

Bacon dressing premix

Now, take a whisk and mix the whole thing up, scraping the bottom of the pan so that browned bacon bits gets infused into the dressing.

When you’re done, it should look like this:

Bacon dressing

Take about half of the spinach in your salad kit and toss it in a bowl, then add the bacon bits. I’m out of control, so I used the entire bag of dried cherries and bleu cheese, but if you’re more reasonable than I am, you’ll measure out half and save the rest to eat with the rest of the salad later in the week.

Spinach salad with dried cherries and bleu cheese

Pour half of the salad dressing into the bowl, and toss well. Taste before you add more dressing – it’s pretty strong, so it’s very important not to over-dress!

However, if you do accidentally use too much salad dressing, toss in another handful or two of spinach to the salad bowl and toss again. Don’t worry – I got your back, girl! This is foolproof. Taste again to make sure it’s perfect, and serve immediately.

The warm dressing will slightly wilt the spinach and soften the cheese. You’ll love it! This dressing would taste equally awesome with a red onion/mushroom/goat cheese combo too, if you’re feeling those flavors instead.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

What You’ll Need

  • 4 medium-sized russet potatoes
  • 1/2 of a cup of half-and-half (or milk or broth if you’re healthier than I am)
  • 2-3 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional seasonings: garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, or Lawry’s seasoning salt would taste great!

How To Make It

I usually buy 5 lb bags of russet potatoes, and cook the whole dang thing into a gigantic casserole full of rich mashed potatoes. This is a mistake. First of all, potatoes will last longer raw and in your pantry than they will mashed and in your fridge. Plus, well–mashed potatoes just aren’t something you want to eat for two weeks straight. You’ll get sick of them, and they’ll go to waste. So instead, grab four of those potatoes.

Potatoes on counter

Peel the potatoes, rinse them in cold water, and carefully cut them into 1-2 inch chunks. Toss them into a large pot, cover with water, and boil for about 20 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when a fork can pierce the potato pieces without resistance.

Cut potatoes in pot

When the potatoes are done, drain them in a pasta strainer, and shake the strainer around a bit to get as much water out as possible. Toss the potatoes back into the pot you cooked them in, and return the pot to your stove, now set on low heat. This will help evaporate some of the excess moisture while you’re mashing.

Add the cream (or milk or broth), cream cheese, butter, several dashes of salt and pepper, and any other optional seasonings you want.

Pre mash

Now, take a potato masher, and go to town on these bad boys. (You could also use a hand or stand mixer to whip the potatoes, but mashers are only around $8 at Walmart and they keep potatoes from getting glue-y).

Mashy

That’s what I’m talkin’ about. While they’re still lumpy, taste and see if they need any more seasonings. Mash a little more, and add more liquid or cream cheese if you think they’re needed.

The Finished Dinner:

Date night dinner

There. An impressive and delicious meal that your sweetie (or BFF) is going to just love!

What Do You Think?

What are your Valentine’s Day plans? What are some of your favorite fancy meals to make? What’s your favorite cut of steak? Do you ever make your own salad dressings? What do you usually put in your mashed potatoes?

Leave a comment and share your tips!

Posted on on February 6, 2014 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , ,

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8 Responses to “The Chic Chef: A Date Night Dinner”

  1. 1
    February 6th, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Dear Chelsea,

    If I supply the wine and cheese, will you come to Boston and be my Valentine and cook for me forever? Please?

    Sincerely,

    Shannon

    P.S. Seriously, though, all of your cooking posts are so inspiring. And now I’m craving steak.

  2. 2
    February 6th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Dear Shannon,

    Absolutely—and we better go see the Celtics and their foxy coach while I’m there too!!

  3. 3
    February 6th, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Absolutely delicious looking!

  4. 4
    February 6th, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Looks great but next time do you think you could do something vegetarian?

  5. 5
    February 6th, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Hey Emma, I usually try to include ways to alter dishes to make them vegetarian, but I will be sure to make an entire vegetarian meal in the next 2-3 weeks!

  6. 6
    February 6th, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    This looks so good! My boyfriend is always after me to make a home-cooked meal for him, and I think he’d love this!

  7. 7
    February 7th, 2014 at 12:43 am

    As a avid cooker I always have trouble with potatoes. I can’t wait to try to make them this way.

  8. 8
    April 12th, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Oh my gosh, the Dole cherry almond bleu salad is my favorite bagged salad!! Sometimes I just eat a whole bag by itself for dinner!! Thanks for including it! :)

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