Valentine’s has never been a favorite holiday of mine. I would go so far as to say I used to hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I still don’t like it, but it’s a lot easier to like when you’ve got someone to buy you pressies and bring you flowers and whatnot.

So as a “Happy Valentine’s, sucka” to my fella, I decided to put my relatively newfound culinary skills to good use and cook us up a feast.  I’m a slow chopper and a perfectionist, so we didn’t eat until 9, but I think we were both pretty satisfied (as was Nina… it’s not everyday that a puppy gets fillet mignon bits!).

I aimed high with the following menu:

Starter (yes… starter!):
Wild mushroom & leek soup w/ parsley dumplings (everything, including the vegetable stock, from scratch)

Main:
Pan fried, peppercorn-crusted fillet mignon
Green bean salad with marinated red onions in a homemade vinaigrette

Dessert:
Ghiradhelli loveliness from Spencer

First I started out with about $10 worth of assorted veggies for the stock…

Wanna see how it turned out?

Making vegetable stock is surprisingly easy and actually cheaper than buying a carton o’ Swanson’s. One carton of Swanson’s veggie broth will generally yield about 2 cups and costs around $3. My soup recipe called for 8 cups of veggie stock, which I then halved because I’m not a crazy person and want nothing to do with soup for 8. So, I made veggie stock using a recipe that would yield 12 cups and used 4 of those cups for my soup and froze the rest, which will keep for 3 months. $10 for veggies that give you delicious, authentic, made-with-love stock instead of $20 for an embarrassing number of store-bought cartons. Huzzah!

Anyhoo, I chopped everything up with my trusty chef’s knife and threw it all into my cauldron along with a few bay leaves, chopped parsley, salt & pepper. Let it boil and then turned it down to simmer for about an hour, until the veggies were soft and golden.

Then I strained that stuff to death using my lovely melamine strainer and then a few times through the metal sieve and I was left with this:

Then came a lot of time-consuming stuff with mushrooms that I couldn’t be bothered to photograph. Slicing the crimini and re-hydrating the porcini. Browning (in batches) the crimini and tossing in minced garlic and a bit of dry sherry.

After all the mushroom stuff was done, I set to work  on the leeks.

Sliced ’em…

Separated them (for no other reason than to take a pretty picture)…

Added half a sweet onion and sautéed them both into golden yumminess…

Then I added the leek & onion sautee along with all the mushrooms (including the porcini water) and a few more spices to my wondrous stock and bam! Mushroom & leek soup!

I was halfway done with the starter… just had to make the dumplings, which I was moderately terrified by since this was my very first time attempting such a thing. But rest assured, they are crazy easy… even if you’re like me and don’t own a food processor. That’s what wooden spoons and rubber spatulas are made for! I used the back of a spoon to mash up the curds in some cottage cheese. Then I whisked a couple of eggs along with some flour until it was well mixed. Added the smoothed cottage cheese to the egg and flour mixture along with grated parmesan and chopped fresh parsley and mixed that up real good too!

Then comes the ugly part… I brought a pot of water to a robust rolling boil. Then using a teaspoon, I spooned a small amount of the dumpling mixture (about the size of a cherry) and held it just above the water before using a second spoon to gently push the dumpling into the water. Repeat about 10 or so more times. Let me tell ya, dumplings in boiling water sure are gross looking. After about a minute or so, they each began to float to the top of the pot. From that point, I just let them cook through for about 2-3 minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon. I made about 20!

After all the dumplings had been boiled and slottily removed, it was time for a quick turn in the frying pan to brown them into something more appetizing!

Our entrée was relatively easy and far more familiar, so that took no time at all! Spencer made a quick vinaigrette and I steamed the green beans.

Marinated the red onion and green beans in the vinaigrette. While that percolated, I rubbed the fillet mignon with cracked pepper and a bit of sea salt and let that set for a while. Then, into the pan it went. Et fin!

Finished products, you ask?

Ta da, dumplings!

Soup!

Steak!

Happy Valentine’s!

Recipes adapted from Bon Appetit and my brain…

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