I need to start off this week with a joke from my niece Sydney:

“Why did the Sheriff arrest the chef? For beating the eggs and whipping the cream!”

OK, back to my day job! I want to give a shoutout to all of the local, chef-driven restaurants that go the extra mile to put on special events and wine dinners. I write about these often and I do so because they are always amazing.

What I appreciate most about these special dinners is that it brings us into a situation where all the decisions have been made for us – the food course, the wine or bourbon or beer pairings. The chefs and their staff are in their finest form, you are seated with couples you may have never met and conversations are plentiful. The food and wines or beers or bourbons are always remarkable.

Like Thyme 2 Chef John Kolar says, “The only decision you have to make is the one to attend. We do the rest.”

Just last week, we had three such dinners. First, on Jan. 29, Chef Ryan Marino and his Corkscrew Saloon had the “Tour of California Wine Dinner,” which my wife and I were fortunate to attend. The next evening, Chef Kolar, on the coldest night of the year, hosted his “California Dreamin’ Wine Dinner.” Sadly, I could not attend that one, as I had committed to the previous before I learned of it. I hear it was a smashing success, though, and the title combined with the timing could not have been better.

Next, on Feb. 5, Timber Lodge hosted a “Reds to Warm Your Winter Wine Dinner” featuring Sommeliere Larry O’Brien, who was as entertaining as the food was great. My wife and I were lucky enough to attend that dinner and it was, indeed, amazing.

So from firsthand experience, I would like to say that if you have the chance to attend one of these dinners at your favorite, local, chef-driven restaurant, do it. Take your sweetheart out, socialize and immerse yourself into the finest they have to offer. Life is too short to miss the next one.

Speaking of the next one, check out Gandalf Pub’s “Wild Game Dinner” coming up on Monday, March 4. Alligator, anyone?

Speaking of life being too short, Valentine’s Day comes but once a year. This means you have literally a set amount of chances to get it right. Sure, your wife would like a spa gift certificate for a mani/pedi and some roses and chocolates, but the Valentine’s Day dinner seals the deal for a job well done. If you have not made your reservation, better call now.

Most restaurants are likely close to fully booked for that night. You can always make it Valentine’s week and choose another night, which is a great idea, by the way. But, in case you have not done so, I am here to save your day with a few tips on the perfect, home-cooked filet mignon.

First, you need to purchase the right filet. A 10-ounce filet about 1.5-inch thick is what you want.

OK. You will need a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Take the filets out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes before cooking and let them come to room temperature. Make sure the silver skin and most fat is trimmed off. Next, season each with about a tsp. of kosher salt and a tsp. of coarse ground black pepper. I also season with a bit of garlic powder and a bit of Big Green Egg’s “Cosmic Cow” or Dizzy Pigs' “Raising the Steaks.” I season about a half hour before they hit the skillet, all sides.

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the cast iron skillet on the stovetop to very hot. Add 3 tbsps. butter. As soon as it melts, add the steaks. Sear one side, without moving them, for 2.5 minutes. Flip and sear other side, placing them in a new spot so they get the butter. Sear 2.5 minutes. Flip back to the first side, then stick the pan in the preheated oven.

Let them cook 5 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium rare (my preference) and 12 for medium (at 140 degrees). Let them rest for 10 minutes before serving. You can always use a meat thermometer to check doneness (135 degrees for medium rare). This method and timing is foolproof.

Laugh some, wine and dine, and Happy Valentine’s!

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