We've all had one of those days where you stare aimlessly into your fridge and pantry, hoping to God that inspiration jumps out at you and strikes your fancy. This past Sunday, it was a miserable old day here - rain, drizzle, fog, 14 degrees Celsius, (approximately 57 degrees for you Fahrenheit folk), and a bitter 'noreaster' wind coming in off of the Atlantic. In no way, shape or form was it bbq weather but for some reason, all I really wanted for supper was a grilled steak. Don't get me wrong, I cook a pretty mean grilled steak using my stove top grill pan, but when it's suppose to be bbq season, well, using a stove top gril pan just seems, I don't know, anticlimactic. How could I possibly bolster stove top grilled beef tenderloin steaks? I decided making some sort of out of this world side was my only hope and given that my husband likes to consider himself somewhat of a 'meat and potatoes' kinda guy, potato done some way, would be my main side.
They say that opposites attract and when it comes to potatoes, this holds absolutely true for Stephen and I. He likes them simple and mashed, and I like them any other way but simple and mashed! I'm not even a huge fan of baked potatoes...some scarring from my childhood I'm thinking, but I digress! Baked potato is perhaps the easiest, most stressfree way to cook potato but plain ole baked potato did very little to lift my spirits on such a dreary, damp and cold day. But then I thought, 'why not jazz up baked potato?'. Why not indeed! Twice baked potato seemed like an excellent alternative. I considerd my options: bacon and cheese, (ho hum), sour cream and chive, (boring) and then I saw some frozen spinach...hmmmmm. What would go nicely with spinach inside a twice baked potato? Cheese of course! But not just any cheese.....something savory and gooey and light in color. Eureka! Gruyere!
Gruyere cheese is a hard, light colored cheese named after the town of Gruyeres, Switzerland. Although a Swiss cheese, it didn't receive it's AOP designtion as such until 2001. Prior to that, some controversy existed as to whether French cheeses of similar nature could also be labelled Gruyere, with the French gruyere cheeses including Comte and Beauford.
Gruyere is a sweet but slightly salty cheese and it's flavour varies widely with age. When young, gruyere has been described as creamy and nutty, becoming more assertive, earthy and comlex with age. It is generally known as one of the finest cheeses for baking, having a distinctive but not overpowering taste. Gruyere adds savoriness without overshadowing other ingredients in a dish and it's a fabulous melting cheese. All that having been said, Gruyere was definitely my cheese of choice for my Twice Baked Potatoes with Spinach.
I knew that the beef tenderloin steaks I had, (about the size of a pack of playing cards each, which is the perfect amount of red meat per person for a meal if you ask me), would take less than 10 minutes to cook and, of course, they would be served within minutes of being cooked. The twice baked potatoes would take about 45 minutes to an hour for the initial baking, then another 10 minutes or so to scoop out, mix up and refill and about 25 minutes after that to get heated through and golden brown, so obviously, prepping the potatoes was my first order of business. There was only going to be my husband, daughter Mackenzie, Mom and I for supper, so I scrubbed 4 large potatoes, pierced them with a fork and placed them on a baking sheet to cook in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Ooppps....I forgot one part of my time management plan....you have to wait until the potatoes are cool enough to touch after the initial baking....scooping out extremely hot potatoes is a dangerous proposition...trust me!
Once the potatoes were cooled, I cut off the top 1/3 lengthwise of each potato and scooped out the fleshy cooked potato, leaving about 1/4 of an inch thick shells. This makes them much more sturdy for refilling.
To the scooped out potato I added 2 Tbsp salted butter and 1/2 cup 0.5% milk and creamed that all together using my hand mixer on low speed. I then added in thawed and squeezed as dry as I could get it, frozen spinach (1 x 10 oz. pk.), most of 3/4 c. shredded Gruyere and most of 3 finely chopped green onions, all seasoned with a little freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. (I reserved some of the grated Gruyere and minced green onion to sprinkle on top of the stuffed potatoes before putting them in the oven for Round 2). I mixed all of the potatoe mixture up and spooned it back into the potato shells, including the top 1/3 of the potato because it makes for most excellent potato skins! I then placed the stuffed potatoes back onto the baking sheet and baked them in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes until bubbly, heated through and golden on top.
Before I get ahead of myself too much, though, potatoes in the oven, I decided to caramelize some button mushrooms and onion for a more traditional steak side dish. I also had taken my beef tenderloin steaks out of the fridge and had them on the counter seasoned very simply with Worcesterahire sauce and some steak spice. But I wanted something else....a steak sauce of some sort. Usually, I do a reduction of balsamic vinegar and maple syrup to drizzle over my grilled steak but this time, I wanted something just a little more savory. Spying a bottle of opened Mark West Pinot Noir on the counter I decided to do a red wine reduction....with shalllots....and fresh tarragon. (Don't ask how I made those leaps....it just happens sometimes!).
A reduction would take some time to, well, reduce! So when the potatoes went into the oven, I sauteed two minced shallots in some unsalted butter and sprinkled in a little brown sugar. I then added in about 2/3 c. red wine, 2/3 c. low sodium chicken stock, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1-2 tsp frehly chopped tarragon, and a little freshly ground black pepper, topped with one fresh bay leaf. I brought this mixture to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer and gently boil until the sauce was reduced by about half. Somewhere in between there, I added about 8 oz. of button mushrooms, quartered and one medium white onion, sliced to a large saute pan and sauteed them in a little unsalted butter as well.
Sauteed button mushrooms and onions, all caramelized and yummy!
For my steaks, I heated my stovetop grill pan over high heat until it was sizzling hot, placed my steaks onto the pan, gave them a quarter turn after about 2 minutes. I then flipped them over and repeated on the other side. The steaks were about an inch to an inch and a half thick, so it only took about 4-6 minutes to cook them to medium rare doneness. I tented the steaks on a plate with foil to let the juices settle before serving.
The Tarragon Red Wine Shallot Reduction added the perfect balance for the steak and caramelized shrooms and onions but even as a stand alone element it was silky, savory with the slightest hint of tang.
This meal was fabulously flavourful, supremely satisfying, completely comforting and yet eloquently easy.