How to Cook a Filet Mignon

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Many people like to throw t-bones or ribeyes on the barbecue grill outside, and are happy with the results.

My husband used to be one of those, but in recent years he’s become more “picky” about beef, and so these days, if he eats steak, it must be grass-fed filets. As a result, I had to learn to cook filet mignons inside; it’s not always barbecue weather.

A filet is a cross-wise slice from a beef tenderloin. If you’re trimming one yourself, you can get about 6-7 intact filets from the main tenderloin, depending on the thickness of course.



For quite a few years I’ve ordered grass-fed beef tenderloins from various sources. It’s less expensive to buy them whole as opposed to two filets at a time. Plus, after trimming the tenderloin and cutting filets, you’re left with about 2 pounds of beef tenderloin that I usually turn into a stir fry.

I prefer my filets a good inch in thickness, but however the thickness, it’s important to cook them properly. My point with this post is to show how straight forward it is to pan-cook a filet to perfection.

Have your filets close to room temperature. Salt generously; you can season after cooking.

Have a large cast-iron skillet on hand with some grapeseed oil, long-handled tongs, and a plate topped with a rack. You’re going to be resting the cooked filets and you want them to “breathe” on all sides.

The skillet should hold the steaks without crowding. The maximum number I cook in my 10” cast-iron skillet is four, shown browning in bacon grease.

When you’re ready to start, place the skillet over high heat. Turn on the fan.

Pour in some grape seed oil – about 1 tablespoon per steak. When the oil is hot, place a filet in the skillet. Repeat with remaining steaks if cooking more than one.

Brown on that side for at least one minute, then turn them over and brown the other side.

Now here’s the deal. Many people at this point would place the skillet of browned filets in a hot oven to finish. If your steaks happen to be 3” thick you might have to do that. But I do something different. I take advantage of my stove.

Turn the filets back over and turn down the heat! Give them a couple of minutes, turn them over, and let the insides cook for maybe a couple more minutes, and they’ll be perfect.

I used to use a meat thermometer to make sure the temperature didn’t go above 125 degrees. That is a very good technique, but it’s easy to learn when the steaks are ready by squeezing them with your tongs. If the steaks are mushy, then they’re still undercooked. Alternatively, if they’re getting firm, get them the hell out of the skillet.


Cover them loosely with foil. After at least 10 minutes of resting, generously season the filets with coarsely ground pepper or garlic pepper.

Today I served the filets with green beans cooked with shallots and tomatoes, and topped with pine nuts.

Also, there’s truffle butter…

Here is a garlic pepper I highly recommend.

Mustardy Cauliflower Cheese

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Will Ottolenghi ever stop writing cookbooks?!! That’s rhetorical, of course. I certainly hope he continues, because I was enamored with the four I already owned, before I just had to buy Simple, his most recent, published in 2018. And I’m so happy I did.

I’ve already made many recipes from Simple. It’s that good. And, it doesn’t seem like a repeat of Jerusalem, Plenty and so forth. In fact, I’m not sure I spotted pomegranate seeds in Simple’s food photos!

One extremely intriguing recipe is called mustardy cauliflower cheese. I’ve seen cauliflower cheese recipes before, meh, but when Ottolenghi has one, I pay attention!

From Ottolenghi: This is the ultimate comfort dish, looking for a roast chicken, some sausages, or a pan-fried steak.

Mustardy Cauliflower Cheese
Serves 4
Printable recipe below

1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 green chilies, seeded, finely diced
3/4 teaspoons black mustard seeds
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 1/4 ounces aged cheddar, coarsely grated
Salt
1/3 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Steam the cauliflower over boiling water for 5 minutes, until just softening. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.

Put the butter into a 9” round casserole pan or oven-proof dish and place over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 8 minutes, until soft and golden.

Add the cumin, curry powder, mustard powder and chiles and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the mustard seeds, cook for 1 minute, then pour in the cream.

Add 1 1/4 cups of cheddar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.

Add the cauliflower, stir gently, and simmer for 1 minute before removing from the heat.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup of cheddar in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs and parsley. Mix, then sprinkle over the cauliflower.

Bake for 8 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cauliflower is hot. Turn the broiler to high and keep the pan underneath for 4 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp.

Keep an eye on it so that it does not burn.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little – just for 5 minutes or so – before serving.

You can imagine what this cauliflower smells like, with the cumin, mustard, and curry spices!

Roast chicken would certainly be the perfect accompaniment. Or sausages.

David Chang’s Short Ribs

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Soon after starting my blog, I discovered sous vide, and knew I had to own a machine. Because it was a big purchase, I asked for one as a Christmas present. I won’t complain about how many years it took for me to get one, because I now have one and use it constantly. Even more than I thought I would.

I especially love it for “inferior” cuts of beef like brisket, hanger and flank steaks. Often I sous vide pork loin and chicken breasts. I can cook all of these meats “properly,” but their sous vide counterparts can’t be beat with traditional methods in my opinion.

Which brings me to short ribs. For some reason, I’ve never thought to sous vide them. I think because I always enjoy the process of making short ribs, sometimes in a traditional way with red wine and herbs, other times with Southwestern adobo flavors. I’ve also used short ribs in a sauce for giant pasta, and in cheesy sandwiches with pickled onions. The rib meat has many uses.

Then I read Momofuku, by David Chang. Published in 2009, it tells the delightful story of David Chang, who at 27, opened his first restaurant, Momofuku.

As I read through the book, which covered recipes from each of his four restaurants, the three others being Ko, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Ssäm Bar, I realized these were recipes that I would not be making. However, the stories are hysterical, scary, on-the-edge-of-your seat crazy about life as a restaurant owner.

Then I came across his recipe for sous vide short ribs that really intrigued me.

From the book: “Low-temperature cooking affords cooks an accuracy and a measure of control over the oneness of meat that we have only dreamed about since humans first witnessed the marriage of meat and fire.”

When he first was exposed to sous vide cooking at a restaurant, David Chang originally thought that it was a “cop out,” a way to not really have to know how to cook a steak.

“Then, I grew up a little bit and came to realize that sous vide cooking is amazing magic. (Or at least it can be; all good techniques can be poorly used.)”

But I don’t think he realizes the sous vide options for the home cook.

In Momofuku he writes: “This recipe is not a reasonable proposition for the home cook unless you are willing to buy a vacuum-sealing machine and fabricate a water circulator situation. And even then, 48 hours is a world of time to cook something.”

This is a photo of my sous vide, which has gone up only a little in price over the years. I like it because it’s a smaller size; perfect for a small family.

Now, Mr. Chang is right in his opinion that you can’t just set your sous vide and leave town. I sometimes worry that my electricity will go out during sous vide’ing. I’m lucky it hasn’t. But maybe it’s the 9 years since his book was published, that sous vide has made it into home kitchens, thankfully.

So the only thing that I hesitated about following David Chang’s short rib recipe was his suggested accompaniments to the short ribs: dashi-braised daikon, pickled carrots, and pickled mustard seeds. Not the prospect of cooking meat for 48 hours.

David Chang’s Short Ribs

2 2/3 cups water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon pear juice
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon apple juice
2 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
10 grinds black pepper
1/2 small onion, 1/2 small carrot
3 scallions, whites only
2 garlic cloves
8 pieces bone-in short ribs, trimmed

Combine the water, soy, pear and apple juices, mirin, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, onion, carrot, scallions, and garlic in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat.


Reduce the heat so the liquid simmers gently and cook for 10 minutes.

Strain the solids out of the marinade and cool it in the refrigerator.

Combine each short rib with 1/2 cup marinade in a vacuum-sealable bag and seal it. Then seal the bagged rib in a second bag.

Set your sous vide to 140.2 degrees F. Add the bags of ribs and cook for 48 hours.

When the ribs are done, remove them from the water and plunge the bags into a large bowl of ice water. Refrigerate the bags.

Cut the ribs out of their bags over a mixing bowl to catch the braising liquid; set the ribs aside.

Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil over hi heat and reduce it until you have about 2 cups, no more than 10 minutes. Reserve.

Slide the bones out of the short ribs. Trim off any large, obvious pieces of fat, and trim the ribs into neat cubes or rectangles.

Prepare a skillet over high heat with a little grape seed oil. Sear the ribs on all sides, repeat batches.

When ready to serve, put a couple of tablespoons of the reduction in the center of the plate and top with the ribs.

Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Oh these ribs!


I knew the rib meat would be tender, but the flavors!!! You can taste every ingredient in the marinade.

And the liquid is fabulous. I actually strained it twice. I’ll be making these ribs again. Thanks David.

Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e Pepe is an Italian pasta dish that translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a long-time standard of Roman cuisine.

Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever made it, and I never have. As much as I love and respect the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes, this one probably never intrigued me enough because of the lack of “goodies” in it, like a little Prosciutto, or smoked salmon.

But I decided it was about time to make Cacio e Pepe and embrace the perfection that is a traditional pasta dish.

When I started researching the recipe online, it was like opening up an Italian Pandora’s box. There were so many criticisms of recipes, techniques, and so forth. I’ve always found that the Italians are the most passionate about their traditional recipes remaining traditional.

I personally don’t mind variations on the original, but nonetheless I closed the box and decided on the recipe I would use. The important goal of making Cacio e Pepe is a creaminess that is created without using butter or cream.
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Here’s what I did.

First I grated 8 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese and set aside.

Then I place a large pot full of salted water on the stove over high heat. I chose basic spaghetti, 16 ounces, for my pasta.
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When the water boiled, I added the pasta and timed 9-10 minutes.
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After the pasta was cooked, I poured some of the pasta water in a bowl, drained the pasta, and returned the pasta to the pot. I had a stirring spoon on hand, and immediate added some of the pasta water to the pot, stirring gently.

I then added about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper and the grated cheese, along with more pasta water as needed. Vigorous stirring was necessary to create a creaminess and incorporate the cheese.


Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls.
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I added more coarsely-ground pepper.
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This dish is so much about the pepper!

I can now understand why this simple pasta dish has endured for centuries. I’ve always loved and respected the simplicity of many Italian dishes, but I think this one takes the cake.
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However, as wonderfu as Cacio e Pepe is, tomorrow I’m adding some Prosciutto or smoked salmon.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

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It seems like I’ve been entertaining a lot lately. A little bit more than usual. Which is good – I love having company. But what that means is that I have a lot of extra cheese on hand, because I invariably purchase good cheeses for hors d’oeuvres when friends are coming.

Inspired by a recipe by Jacques Pepin, I decided to use all of the cheeses together and make a cheese log of sorts. Jacques Pepin calls this fromage fort, which literally translates to “strong” cheese.

That’s really a misnomer because there’s nothing strong about this cheese unless you choose to make it strong. It’s all about your choice of cheeses. I used goat cheese, Manchego, and Fontina.

In his book, Chez Jacques, Jacques tells the story about how his father always made crocks of cheeses created by whatever leftover cheeses they had on hand. He also included other things like wine and sometimes garlic. His father’s cheese creations were definitely strong because he aged them for about 1 1/2 weeks in the cellar before serving.

Mrs. Pepin follows the same method of combining leftover cheese to make fromage fort, but unlike the “old” days, uses a food processor. She also adds some cream cheese or cottage cheese if the cheeses are on the dry side. I used some butter, but it’s the same principle.

Cheese Log with Walnuts

Goat cheese
Manchego
Fontina
Butter
Walnuts

I’m not including the weights of the cheeses because the whole point of making this fromage fort, or potted cheese, is using what you have on hand.

I placed the goat cheese and the grated Manchego and Fontina in a large bowl. Then I added some butter just to make things a little softer and smoother. Then I let things set until everything was at room temperature.

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I toasted the walnuts. Then I chopped them on a cutting board.
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I layed out a piece of plastic wrap on my workspace, and then carefully placed some of the chopped walnuts on the plastic wrap. I did this instead of just pouring the walnuts onto the plastic, because I didn’t want to include the walnut “powder” that comes from chopping the walnuts. I wanted the bigger, cleaner pieces.

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I used my hands to mix everything together – it was almost like kneading a greasy bread.

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Then I formed a log of sorts and pressed it down onto the stretch of walnuts.
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Then I added more walnuts, and kept turning over the log until all sides were completely covered with walnuts.

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Wrap the log securely and store in the refrigerator.

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At least 2 hours before serving, remove the log from the fridge and place on the serving plate. Then let it come to room temperature. Serve with crackers or bread.
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This is really good cheese to serve with charcuterie and olives, as well as other cheeses.

log

note: You don’t have to turn your cheeses into a log. If you prefer, just place the mixture in a crock. But if you stick to the log idea, different nuts can be used with this recipe just as well as different cheeses. Instead of nuts you could use only chopped herbs in the summer. And, you could use dried fruit as well – think dried cranberries and pistachios for the holidays!!