Tastes of the Week and Valentine's Day

Feb. 6 through Feb. 13, 2012 Happy Valentine's Day! If you're not going out for a candlelight dinner tonight, why not make one at home? You might enjoy a radically elegant Filet of Beef with Wasabi Cream (recipe below from Radically Simple) or my heart-shaped meatloaf from Little Meals. Share the love.  A St. Amour beaujolais would be a nice wine to drink.  And of course, serve something chocolate for dessert. Perhaps a "Little Black Dress Chocolate Cake" accessorized with fresh raspberries and powdered sugar (or gold leaf!)

Tastes of the week:  In a nutshell, two terrific meals last week at Le Bernardin and at abckitchen. I haven't been to Le Bernardin in years and was eager to see the new design. While I am still partial to the original "look" created by uber-architect Phil George (with the wonderful paintings by Abelard Favela -- a revered artist from Mexico), the new Le Bernardin is arresting in its cool, warm look and remarkable 24-foot painting (I swore it was a photo) of a stormy sea by Brooklyn artist, Ran Ortner. In celebrating my cousin's special birthday, we had the three-course prix fixe lunch with an additional "middle course" of ethereal fettuccine with a truffle bolognese. Sublime. But the most stunning dish was a first course of barely cooked shrimp and foie gras. The most "French" tasting dish I've had in a long while. The rest of the menu -- octopus, red snapper, lobster, were all first-rate as were the desserts -- not too crazy (as so many have become) but intelligently crafted and beautifully executed.

At abckitchen, I had my favorite starter, the kabocha squash and ricotta bruschetta, the famous roasted carrot salad, a wondrous sashimi, and a pizza to share, laden with spinach, herbs and goat cheese.  Chef Dan Kluger has perfect "flavor" pitch.

And then there was the very good guacamole at Rosa Mexicano on East 18th Street. The size of a small neighborhood, the place felt very democratic and alive. The signature dish is the table-side guacamole, made from perfectly-ripe avocados, mashed and tossed with tomato, jalapeno, lime juice and more. I loved that it was served at room temperature (those avocados never saw the inside of a refrigerator.) And while I rarely drink margaritas, no less a pomegranate one, and no less a frozen one, Rosa Mexicano's version rocks. Almost ordered a second. It is interesting that Jonathan Waxman decided to become the executive chef of this upscale chain and no doubt will bring his formidable expertise to the kitchen. I always think of the amazing woman who started it all -- Josefina Howard -- who was among the first to bring sophisticated Mexican food to New York -- in stylish surroundings, with a sexy vibe, excellent food, and those...wonderful pomegranate margaritas. She is greatly missed and one of  New York's great women-in-food.

Happy Valentine's day. Food is love.

Filet of Beef with Wasabi-Garlic Cream (from Radically Simple) serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil 1-3/4-pound filet of beef, tied 1 tablespoon sugar 1-1/2 cups heavy cream 2 very large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed 1 tablespoon prepared wasabi

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle the oil on a rimmed baking sheet; roll the filet in the oil. Combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt.  Rub into the top and sides of the filet, but not the bottom or it will burn. Roast the beef 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125 degrees for rare. Meanwhile, bring the cream and garlic to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring, until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Push the softened garlic through a press; whisk back into the sauce. Add the wasabi, cook 1 minute and remove from the heat. Add salt. Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes. Gently reheat the sauce. Remove the strings from the beef and thickly slice. Serve with the sauce.

Election Day Dinner

Happy election day. Don't forget to vote. And while you're in the neighborhood, why not find a neighbor, or two, to invite to dinner! If that sounds daunting, try making dinner from my new book Radically Simple. I will be doing that this evening. A new friend, Helen, is coming for dinner. She works for one of New York's top PR agencies that represents some of the country's most important celebrity chefs and restaurants. She lives near my home in Park Slope, Brooklyn yet we have never gotten together. We just seem to run into each other at book parties and on the subway platform. We're excited she's coming. Later this morning, I will also be inviting another new friend, Bob, who is currently writing "the" definitive book on the life of Julia Child. He and his wife live around the corner, but she is leaving tonight for Morocco with a group of girlfriends. Although Bob is a great cook and can definitely fend for himself, I'm hoping he feels like being social. We'll no doubt talk politics and that conversation will invariably swerve to...food. It always does.

And what are we having for dinner? You can simply scroll down to the bottom of my blog where you'll see some of the simplest recipes imaginable from my new book (it's only a week old!) Yes, we'll have Beet Soup with Lemon Crème fraîche. I think I'll make some fennel-cumin flatbreads to accompany it. With that, we'll have an interesting white wine from Argentina -- an unusual combination of chardonnay and ugni blanc -- the latter being the grape used for making cognac. Next, we'll have the most radical version of roast chicken -- roasted stark naked (the bird, that is!) -- with salt and pepper added only at the end. I'll give it a chef flourish of a foaming butter sauce flecked with chopped chives and a smashed garlic clove. We'll have an enlightened version of scalloped potatoes, made with half & half (instead of heavy cream), gruyere and fresh thyme. And what did I just invent this morning? A Moroccan-inspired carrot puree made with ground coriander, cumin and a pinch of chipotle. We'll open a bottle of Malbec, also from Argentina, to accompany the main course.

Dessert? My "Little Black Dress" Chocolate Cake. It's made with only 4 ingredients, is flourless, and bakes in 18 minutes. Top with raspberries and a one-ingredient creme anglaise: It doesn't get more radical, or simple, than that.

Creamy Potato Gratin with Gruyere & Thyme A gratin refers to the golden, epicurean crust that forms on the surface of savory baked dishes. Here, pungent Gruyere cheese acts as a protective layer, preventing potatoes from drying out.

2-1/2 pounds Yukon gold or all-purpose potatoes 3 cups half-and-half 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, in one piece 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the potatoes and slice paper-thin. Put the potatoes in a 4-quart pot with the half-and-half, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes begin to soften, 15 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the cheese on the large holes of a box grater. Transfer the potatoes and cream to a shallow ovenproof baking dish (the cream will not cover the potatoes.) Press down with a spatula; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme and cover with the cheese. Bake 40 minutes, until golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining thyme. Serves 8

Enjoy dinner.  Hope your candidate wins!