Sunday, December 19, 2010

Filet Mignon, my way

Today, for the first time since I became a full time student, I decided to cook some proper gourmet food that I would actually enjoy. I'm not a fan of cooking for myself, but with school being out for the winter, I wanted to celebrate - if even by myself. But I still didn't feel like putting too much work into that meal, so I made bacon-wrapped filet mignon with herb-tossed, roasted baby gourmet Klondike potatoes, steak tomatoes and feta cheese and pickled jalapenos. Sounds like a lot of work? Not really. Totally unconventional and totally me.

Just so you know, the filet mignon is referred to in France as the filet de boeuf, since the filet mignon refers to pork, not beef. It is the most tender and therefore, most expensive cut of beef. When buying a filet mignon cut, look for the lighter colored cuts rather than the dark ones. The lighter cut indicates more 'marbling', which will make it more tender.

I wrapped my filet mignon in bacon - it doesn't just taste great (anything with bacon does, unfortunately) - but it also keeps the meat moist. This is called 'barding'. I pan seared it on high heat for a few minutes each side to seal in the juices and sprinkled it with salt and pepper and popped it into the oven at 375 for 15 minutes to finish cooking through. Because it's such a tender cut, it's best to cook it just to medium-rare. The longer you cook it, the tougher it will get and it will also become dry. It's a good idea to use the touch method to test for done-ness instead of cutting it, as that will make the juices run out and make you lose both flavor and moisture. I use the SBF method. If when you press a finger into the meat it is:
  • Soft and doesn't bounce back: It is rare.
  • Bouncy, but still soft: It is medium rare.
  • Firm: It is overcooked.
    For the roasted potatoes, I halved each potato and parboiled them - taking them off the heat right after it came to a boil. I tossed the potatoes in butter and extra virgin olive oil (you can skip the butter, if you like) and a mixture of kosher salt, Tuscan herbs and I had to add my favorite cilantro and freshly ground black peppercorns. I spread the well-oiled potatoes in a single layer in a baking dish for about 20 minutes until they became firm, but crispy on the outside.

    While the  meat and potatoes were in the oven, I sliced the steak tomatoes cross-wise, sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese and drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil. This is a different take on your traditional capri salad, so there was no mozzarella cheese or basil. So maybe not even a modified capri salad at all.

    When everything came together, it smelled scrumptious and I couldn't wait to dig in - but not before I poured myself a glass of fine Cabernet Sauvignon! This would also have worked with some good Bordeaux, but I just happened to have a bottle of Cab.

    With the fist mouthful, I was in epicurean heaven! All the layers of flavors were just delightful. The meat was tender and juicy, the tomatoes were so refreshingly different, and offered a great contrast to the feta cheese and the jalapenos. Yum! I can still taste the phantom flavors as I write this....It was well worth the effort.

    So go ahead, try it and let me know how it turns out! Buon appetito!

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Nailing it: The 5-step DIY nailcare guide for men

    I love the way my nails look after I give them a little TLC and I don't even go to a salon for that. Here's a quick and easy way to get that clean, manicured look without having to sit in a manicurist's station.

    You'll need:
    • A nail clipper
    • A nail file
    • A nail buffer (a rectangular foam block that looks like a cross between a sanding block and a kitchen sponge)
    • A nail brush
    • A cuticle pusher
    • Cuticle oil
    All of these are easily found at your local drugstore. Hopefully you might have some of them. You'll also need a bowl of warm soapy water and lotion, which I know you'll have.
    1. Soak your nails in the soapy water for a few minutes to soften them up and scrub under your nails with the nail brush. You can also use the nail file that comes with the clipper to clean any residual dirt from under the nails.
    2. Clip your nails along the natural curvature of your fingers and follow that by evening out the cut,  'sanding' with the nail file. When clipping your nails, it is important not to crack them. (That's why soaking helps).
    3. Buff your nails using the buffer in the same fashion as you would buff a pair of dress shoes. If your buffer has sides with different textures, start with the most coarse and finish with the smoothest. Multiple-textured buffers give the most polish and can really make your nails look professionally manicured.
    4. Dab a drop of cuticle oil on each nail, wait for a couple of minutes and then use the cuticle pusher to push back the cuticle on each finger.
    5. Moisturize. Using good helping of the lotion, rub in the lotion into your hands from your wrists to your extremities.This is important because it helps keep the skin surrounding the nail grooves from drying and cracking and also keeps your hands soft.
    Now go show off those hands!

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Bottoms up: A wine primer

    The thought of being a wine connoisseur is enough to conjure up images of highfalutin, snobbish people mumbling fancy jargon. Having to choose a wine in a fine restaurant can make some nervous. It hasn’t helped that there are enough ‘rules’ and myths about wine that can make many people feel a little intimidated. But you can get to know wine pretty well.

    First rule out the window: Don’t have red wine with fish or chicken or white wine with beef. True, it’s a good guideline, but by no means a hard and fast rule. Also, an expensive wine doesn’t mean a great tasting or a great quality wine. So where does one begin with wine?

    Let's start at the beginning: opening a bottle of wine. Opening a bottle of wine is a simple art that anyone can learn very easily. Here's a video showing you how:

    The senses are very important in appreciating any wine. What is its color like? If it is a white wine, is clear or hazy or opaque? What does it smell like? Does it smell like flowers, fruits, wood? What does it taste like? Can you pick up caramel, or citrus, or strawberry? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth or bold or coarse? Don't worry of you if you don't can't pick up any of these initially - like anything else, it take practice to perfect.

    When pouring wines, you don’t want to fill the glass – and especially for red wines, keep them below a third of the glass. Red wines need a lot more room to ‘breathe’, that’s why they are drunk in wide bowled glasses. It also makes it easier to swirl it without spilling the drink. Swirling wine helps to aerate it to bring out the flavors. You might notice that red wine drunk soon after it is poured may not taste as good as it does after it’s been swirled and left to sit for a few minutes.

    Most basic white table wines would be considered 'dry' because they are fermented until all the sugars were converted to alcohol - making it dry. Examples of these would include the Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Some wines, like those made from the Chenin Blanc grapes might be considered 'off dry' because they have some residual sweetness to them, but not enough to make them a dessert wine. The sweetness of a wine can also be affected by the ripeness of the grape and the presence of flavors verging on buttery or vanilla. California Chardonnays and wines from the Loire Valley, Alsace, Germany and Austria tend to be slightly sweeter.

    Apart from dessert wines such as port, most red table wines are completely dry. Examples would be the Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Note that naturally occurring compounds in wines called tannins might have the effect of making you mouth feel dry, but that does not make a wine dry. Tannins are a function of texture, and dryness a function of taste (sweetness, or the lack thereof).

    In fine restaurants, after you select your wine, the sommelier will bring you your wine and pour you a little bit. Swirl it around first, then sniff it deeply, taking note of the aromas. This is called the 'nose. Then taste it. Take a nice, healthy sip and move it around in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it. Remember that you taste different flavors in different areas of your tongue. If you like it, the sommelier will serve your party.

    As the French say, "A votre santé!" Enjoy.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    House of Cards: The Protocol of Business Cards

    Recently, at a conference, I noticed how a colleague kept thrusting his business card in the face of anyone who spoke one word to him. I’d cringe each time I introduced him to someone I was speaking with and he’d flash his card out.

    It is important to remember when networking, that the attitude should not be “what’s in it for me”, but instead, “what’s in it for them”. There is a set of protocols for giving out business cards, and the cardinal rule is that you don’t give out your card without being asked for one. I’d like to modify that one somewhat: True, you must wait to be asked for your card, but you can create the situation for someone to ask for your card. Otherwise, just ask how you can contact them, if they haven’t offered you their card. Or, at the very least, create a reason for someone to want to have your card. 

    For example, I was speaking with a gentleman who manufactured specialty cosmetics and I offered to put some information on my website about his products. So I offered to give him my card so he could contact me if he ever wanted to take me up on my offer. Notice I created the situation first, I offered to give him my card before I gave it to him. 

    It is also useful to take a cue from the Japanese who see a business card as an extension of the person it represents.
    • Always give the card out with your right hand (or with both hands, as the Japanese do) and never with your left.
    • Present the card with the writing facing the person you’re giving it to.
    • It’s probably not a good idea to whip out your card from your wallet in your back pocket – a business card holder in a front pocket is better way to go.
    • A business card holder will also keep your cards in mint condition for when you have to give them out.
    •  Remember your business card is a representation of you – make sure it reflects your values and personality.
    When receiving a business card, the Japanese mindset is still a good one to keep.
    • Accept the card with your right hand (or with both hands). The use of the left hand is insulting in many cultures.
    • When you accept a card, never put it away immediately without looking at it with some interest for a few seconds. Better still, make a comment about the card or ask a question about some information on it. It shows you’re paying attention and not dismissing the person who gave you the card. You might also find some information which will be a good subject for discussion.
    • Don’t put it in your back pocket and certainly not in front of the person who just gave it to you!
    • Do follow up if you say you will. Only ask for cards from people you intend to contact.
    • Make sure you transfer the information into your electronic contact management system or Rolodex (does anyone still use those?) – It is bad form to tell someone you need another card because you lost the one they gave you.
    Happy networking!

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    The Perfect Dinner Party

    I love to entertain and people always ask me what the secret is to throwing the perfect party. Today, I will focus on elements for a mid-sized dinner party for 6 to 12 people. Now, for any gathering to be successful, you will need what I call 'the Fab Five': Atmosphere, Drink, Food, Company and You.

    Creating an atmosphere for a successful event will include elements such as lighting, music, decor and any other elements that will enhance the atmosphere of any gathering. Focus on what the guests with see, smell, feel (tactile and emotional). Candles are usually a good idea, creating soft, forgiving lighting and hiding a multitude of sins! Music should not be too noticeable if you want to encourage guests talking, but just enough to create an ambience. Flowers can be a nice touch, but, really almost anything can be used to make great centerpieces.

    Give your guests something to drink within 5 minutes of their arrival - wine, a martini, beer, champagne - just something! And always remember to have something for people who do not drink alcoholic beverages. Water and soda will not cut it! Get creative: seltzer with fruit garnishes is a very simple mocktail idea. (A 'mocktail' is a virgin, or non-alocholic cocktail). You can find other mocktail ideas at websites such as, or Don't have people drinking for more than one hour before dinner is served - your guests will either drink too much, or get too hungry. It's called cocktail hour for a reason! Have about one bottle of wine per guest and probably a little more red than white. According to Esquire's The Big Black Book, red wine drinkers will generally not switch to white wine, but white wine drinkers might not mind as much.

    Once your guests have drinks, have some hors d'oeuvres ready for them. Crudités with an assortment of dips are always a good idea, so is a fruit and cheese platter. But of course, you can make stuff as well. You are only limited by your creativity and how much time and effort you have available at your disposal. But don't give your guests too much to eat, otherwise, your painstakingly made dinner will go to waste!

    If you are cooking dinner yourself, never, ever, try to make a dish you have never prepared before. Anything could go wrong. If you want to try something new, do a practice run first to make sure you can get it done the way it's supposed to be before you try making it for your guests. Also make sure you ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions so you can plan your menu with that in mind.

    If many of your guests will be strangers to one another, invite people you think have something in common. That way, you are free to interact with all your guests without thinking you need to babysit anyone. And, for the love of all that's good, don't invite people who don't like each other or are not talking to each other! It's safe to seat people in boy-girl-boy-girl fashion, but I prefer to separate couples and place people next to someone they may not have met before, but will have something in common. And, next to them, I'll seat someone they already know, just in case they need an out, if my hopes for connecting new people didn't work!

    Finally, you should plan your prep time so you can spend as much time as possible with your guests and not trying to get things done. You need to enjoy your party as well. Your guests came because of you. Don't drink too much, so you can be alert. Just be your charming self, enjoy your company and everything else will fall into place and be just fine.

    Happy entertaining!