Somehow I managed to pull off a major win tonight with dinner. Skirt steak, green beans, and mashed potatoes doesn’t sound all that groundbreaking—or even interesting—but it managed to kind of be both.
First, I marinated the skirt steak for about half an hour, maybe a touch longer, in a mixture of lime juice (2 limes), soy sauce (less than 1/4 cup), olive oil (also less than 1/4 cup), and a dash each of Worcestershire, cumin, and paprika. I seared the steak for about 3 1/2 minutes on each side in a cast iron skillet with some sliced sweet onions. Once out of the pan, I let it rest for a couple of minutes before slicing against the grain.
I sautéd the green beans in a touch of olive oil with salt and pepper for about 6 minutes, then poured in about 2/3 cup of water, covered the pan, and let the beans get tender. After I took the lid off, I let the water evaporate, then threw in a mixture of butter, garlic, and paprika and cooked until the beans got a little wrinkly.
The potatoes were nothing special—just one russet potato, boiled with skin on, and mashed with some sour cream, butter, and a little salt and pepper. I should have added some garlic, but they didn’t really suffer for the lack.
The whole meal was so balanced and the flavors were full without being overwhelming.
The skirt steak was my own creation—it’s pretty much the same marinade I use for fajitas—but it turns out it’s also pretty similar to an Alton Brown recipe. The green beans were from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and, typically, there are several variations with different aromatics and flavors, and I want to try them all because it was such a good veggie. The potatoes . . . well, mashed potatoes are mashed potatoes. I would have used milk instead of sour cream, but we’re out; otherwise, the potatoes were, you know, standard.
All in all, a filling, delicious, and reasonably healthy meal. Oh, and total cost? The skirt steak was $5.99, the green beans were $1.99, and the potato was probably about a buck. Under $10 for a delicious meal for two? FTW.
I live in a great city for meat. Despite that, I’ve never bought meat anywhere but at the local grocery store or Whole Foods. The former has a pretty terrible selection and the quality isn’t terrific; the latter is just too damn expensive for every day. So I finally took the time to figure out where the nearest butcher is and, today, stopped by.
I was, admittedly, nervous. Which is ridiculous—I mean, we’re talking about a butcher shop, right? People have been buying meat from the butcher instead of the supermarket forever. But this butcher shop is in the meatpacking district and is very no frills and I really just had no idea how user-friendly it would be. (I hear stories of one place where you walk into, basically, the meat cooler and have to put on gloves so you can pick out your own meat. Ack!)
My nerves, though, were completely unwarranted. Not only was this shop VERY user-friendly—from the butcher who rummaged in the back for a couple of my special requests to the wholesale dealer who took five minutes to talk to me about the difference between two kinds of Polish sausage—but it was also CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP. Example: I managed to get out of there with 2-1/2 pounds of tenderloin for about $6/lb. (I also got a whole chicken, two beautiful ribeyes, some pork chops, and a pork blade steak for tacos later this week. The blade steak was $2. TWO DOLLARS. And it will feed us for at least one dinner with plenty for leftovers.)
Tonight, I took advantage of the tenderloin and made Beef Wellington for Two. I picked up a Cook’s Illustrated issue full of recipes scaled down for two people a few weeks ago, and the Beef Wellington looked amazing. Instead of wrapping an entire tenderloin in puff pastry, as is traditional for a Beef Wellington, this recipe calls for cooking the two portions individually.
First, I trimmed the tenderloin (it was actually the tenderloin head) and cut it into three pieces. (One piece went into the freezer; I’ll figure out something amazing to do with it later.)
Then I seared the steaks in a small pan on the stovetop.
The steaks went into a 425˚ oven for 15 minutes, along with the puff pastry, each on its own pan. While they cooked, I made the sauce—Madeira, mushrooms, Dijon mustard, and some other stuff.
Out came the steaks, to be smeared with paté (duck paté made with port wine, which I picked up at the grocery counter of the liquor store). For plating, I rested each steak on the bottom half of piece of puff pastry, topped with the sauce and the other half of the puff pastry. Served with steamed asparagus and a white wine beurre blanc.
The steaks were a touch overcooked—the next time I make this, I’ll shave a few minutes off the oven time as well as from the searing—but still very, very tasty, and the sauce was amazing. I’m calling this one a win.
It hasn’t been a bad week; things are picking up a bit at work, and I’m still feeling flush with the success of last weekend’s skirt making. I wanted to keep the good going, so I’ve spent tonight doing things I enjoy: watching trash movies and having a cocktail.
The trash movie is last weekend’s Meteor (part two on Sunday!), and the cocktail is a true Old Fashioned.
(OK, maybe not true — I don’t have any bourbon. ((I used Jack Daniels, a fair compromise.)) But there’s no fruit in my recipe — fruit does not belong in an Old Fashioned.)
Mix up some simple syrup if you don’t have some already. ((Put equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it forms a light syrup. Cool before using. I just keep a jar of it in the fridge.))
Then, in an old fashioned glass (the short, fat, round kind), put several cubes of ice, two tablespoons of simple syrup (I used less because of the Jack Daniels), a couple dashes each Angostura bitters and Peychaud bitters ((You might have to search for the Peychaud bitters, but they’re worth it. Not just for the color — bright red — but for the flavor and aroma.)) and a couple of ounces bourbon. Scotch can work too, but I don’t really care for Scotch. Stir gently and enjoy slowly.
My best friend’s mom (and my best friend, for that matter) make this excellent dip called prairie fire, and I gave it a whirl tonight for the Super Bowl.
Their recipe calls for using New Orleans style red beans, because they’re from Louisiana. I, however, am from Texas, so I used refried pinto beans. Their recipe also called for provolone, but I thought cheddar would go better with my beans, so I used cheddar.
This is basically homemade bean dip with better flavor and texture. It’s addictive.
Also, this recipe is enough for two people. For a crowd, double or quadruple it. (In fact, I quartered my best friend’s recipe. This isn’t the kind of recipe that you can really screw up by being off a little bit on the measurements.)
1 cup refried beans from a can
1/2 stick butter
about 2 tablespoons sliced jalapeños from a jar
about 2 teaspoons jalapeño juice from the jar
about 1 tablespoon very finely minced onion
1 glove of garlic, pressed
about 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, or more to taste
There are two ways to do this. The first way is to toss everything in the food processor or blender first, and then heat it to melt the butter and cheese. I think there’s an easier way, but it requires a handheld or stick blender, which I have. Throw everything in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat till everything is melted. Then take your stick blender to it to break up the jalapeños (and onions, though they should be minced fine enough that the blending won’t do a lot). You could probably not blend it at all, but it’s better if every bite has a little bit of pepper instead of some bites having huge chunks of pepper. But it’s really all about preference.
Prairie fire is great served hot, but it’s pretty darn good when it’s cooled off a bit, too. I served this with another handful of shredded cheddar on top of it, and we liked that, too, since we got a little bit of cheese with every bite.
The only thing left in the fridge tonight was pork chops. Good ones, from Whole Foods, but still, pork chops. I was a little later getting home tonight, so I didn’t have a ton of time to cook anything, and with pork chops, there’s always a big risk of a fast cooking method causing them to dry out.
When I’m worried about dried out pork chops, I usually brine them. But my usual brine takes an hour at least, which I did not have time for. So I threw caution to the wind and tried a super-concentrated brine, soaked the chops for only 25 minutes, and then baked them for 22 minutes. A quick pan-sear when they came out finished them off. Yummy.
So, I used a quarter-cup of kosher salt, a quarter-cup of brown sugar (not packed), a half-cup of cider vinegar, and about a quart of water. Stirred till the salt and sugar were completely dissolved, put the chops and the brine in a gallon zip-top bag, and let them sit for 25 minutes. I patted them dry when they came out, sprinkled them with salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a light dusting of garlic powder. I wanted a little bit of moisture on them for the baking, but usually I use worcestershire and that didn’t seem right. So I mixed one part raspberry chipotle salsa and one part soy sauce, spooned it over the chops on both sides, then baked them for 22 minutes at 350.
When they came out, they weren’t quite done, so I seared them in a pan, about 1-1/2 minutes on each side, over high heat. They got a nice caramelized crust in the searing; the acid in the vinegar helped tenderize the chops—which, I’m sure also helped the brine penetrate them—as well as gave them a very nice flavor.
Vinegar in brine is probably not a good idea for a longer brine, since the acid will cure the meat (think ceviche), but for flash-brining? Perfect.
I made braised short ribs again tonight. This time, I used boneless short ribs, substituted cremini mushrooms for the carrots, and used fresh rosemary instead of dried thyme. It turned out nicely, but not as flavorful as the last batch. Thankfully, short ribs are cheap, so I can keep trying this!
I also took pictures this time.
I haven’t sewn anything in a while—I’m waiting on a new order of fabric to finally make myself a rockin’ tote bag—so I don’t have any new crafty things to post about.
But I do have food to post about.
I decided to branch out from my usual weeknight cooking this week, and bought some beef short ribs. Why? Well, they’re pretty cheap, but they have lots of nice marbling and generally look like they’d be yummy. So I bought some, looked up some recipes, and gave it a whirl. Verdict: Not Fail. In fact, Mr. Angst said that they were the kind of thing he’d expect to eat in a fancy restaurant—and they were so easy to make!
First, you can either do bone-in or boneless short ribs. If you do bone in, be forewarned that you’ll want to cut the bone off about halfway through cooking lest your braising liquid get unbelievably fatty and greasy. Cooks’ Illustrated says to go boneless and use a little gelatin to give the final sauce the right mouthfeel; I say, cutting the bone off halfway through was not that big a deal, so I’d probably just keep doing that. Either way, you need something—either the bones for part of the cooking, or the gelatin—to give the final sauce that finish. (It’s basically the same stuff, since gelatin is generally made from animal collagen. If that grosses you out, sorry. I think it’s important to know where and what your food comes from.)
So, OK. Procure a bottle of robust wine. I used a relatively inexpensive cabernet (not too inexpensive, though!) and I’d recommend something similar. Don’t use a pinot or a really delicate shiraz; you want something with some body and flavor.
Now, take your short ribs—about 3 lbs. if bone-in, and 2 lbs. if boneless—and brown them really well over medium-high heat, in an ovenproof pan/pot for at least 5 minutes on each side. They need to be really browned up. I used my Le Creuset dutch oven, and I think that’s a good pot to use. Nothing too shallow, and it needs a tight-fitting lid.
Once the ribs are well-browned, remove them to a bowl. Add one onion, cut pole-to-pole and then thinly sliced, to the pot and cook, stirring regularly to keep them from burning. You want them to get very soft and just browned. If they are browning too quickly, you can add a couple tablespoons of water. Once the onions are soft, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly (or it’ll burn) until the paste has started to brown on the sides and bottom of the pot. Add three peeled cloves of garlic and cook till aromatic (about 30 seconds), and then pour in a cup of your red wine. (Drink a glass while you cook—then you’ll know if it’s worth cooking with.) Cook the mix until the wine has reduced by about half. Then add a half-cup-to-a-cup of beef broth, a bay leaf, and whatever herbs you love—I used some dried thyme, but I wish I’d added the fresh rosemary I had instead. Also add some carrots if you want, cut into 2-inch pieces. Next time I make this, I’ll try sauteing some mushrooms in with the onions—think creatively like that. Yummy flavors that have some umami to them will be good in this.
Bring the liquids up to a simmer, add the ribs back to the pot, cover and place in a 300° oven for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. At the one hour mark, turn the ribs. If your ribs are bone-in, cut the bone off at this point. Turn the ribs one more time before the end of cooking. When you can slip a fork easily into the meat, it’s done. When it’s done, pull the meat and carrots out of the pot and place them on a serving platter; tent with foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve or strainer into a fat separator (or a bowl if you don’t have one), pressing on the solids. If you used boneless ribs, sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin over 1/4 cup water and let stand at least 5 minutes, while letting the cooking liquid stand so the fat will rise to the top.
Pour the strained liquid back into the pot and cook until reduced by about half, or until it has a nice, thick texture. Add the gelatin mixture at this point if you’re using it. Season as needed and then pour over the ribs.
I served this over mashed potatoes, and it was SUPERB. Highly recommend. I will make this again and again, and I will experiment with various alterations, because this is pretty much how I like my braised meat—very tender, very flavorful, and with a very rich saucy sauce.
Every year, Mr. Angst and I have a special New Year’s brunch at home—eggs benedict, mimosas, and cafe au lait. ((That is, every year that I didn’t stupidly take a swig from a bottle of Patrón at a NYE party, after swilling glass after glass of really cheap sparkling wine. That year, we had brunch on the 2nd, and I spent the 1st in bed, eating dry toast and sipping chicken broth. All my own fault. And the last time I willingly drank tequila straight.)) We have our own special way of making the eggs benedict, though. A now-closed restaurant in our old hometown used to make what they called eggs commodore: poached egg and hollandaise, yes, but breakfast sausage instead of canadian bacon, and perched on puff pastry instead of an english muffin. Mr. Angst LOVED that restaurant, and he doesn’t really care for canadian bacon, so when we make eggs benedict, we make it with breakfast sausage and puff pastry.
The only real problem is that I don’t really like sausage all that much. Oh, I’ll eat it, but I burn out on it pretty quickly. (I’m the same way about bacon. One or two strips and that’s it for me.) And my low tolerance for sausage is made even lower when it’s covered with a poached egg and hollandaise, and set atop a buttery puff pastry. This means that I can usually only finish half of my New Year’s brunch, which is very sad. New Year’s Day is one of the few days out of the year when I will willingly consume that many calories!
This year, I decided, therefore, I needed to try something different for brunch. Another restaurant, not defunct, in our old hometown, and known as sort of the successor to the closed restaurant, has a variety of benedicts on the menu and I noticed the last time we were there that they have a florentine benedict—poached eggs nestled in wilted spinach. Hmmm, I thought yesterday. Maybe I could wilt some spinach in lemon and olive oil and use that instead of sausage for my benedicts… And so I did. And folks, it was DELISH. So good, in fact, that I didn’t bother to take any pictures before I devoured it all. EVERY LAST BITE. The spinach, wilted in a little lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, cut the richness of the egg and hollandaise while also bringing out the lemony goodness of the hollandaise.
With no further ado, then, here’s how I make it all.
I use, and have used for six years now, Emeril’s recipe for hollandaise sauce. One of the reasons I like this recipe is that it uses melted or clarified butter, which is so much easier to manage than trying to emulsify cold butter into just-barely-warm eggs.
3 large egg yolks (save the whites for an omelette or meringues)
2 teaspoons water
1/2 cup clarified butter or 1 stick of butter, melted
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and water together until thick and pale yellow. Move the bowl off the pot as needed to prevent the eggs from overcooking. You do not want them to scramble!! Once the yolks are good and thick, pour the butter in gradually, whisking vigorously the whole time. Get a friend or spouse to help if you have trouble with this step. Continue whisking the egg-butter mix until thick and yummy. Whisk in the lemon juice and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add cayenne last, and DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH. Too much salt in hollandaise is not great but doesn’t ruin the sauce. Too much cayenne, however, will make it really inedible. I honestly usually use about a dash and a half—much more is just bad bad bad.
Since you probably won’t be able to serve the hollandaise immediately, cover the bowl and place in a warm location (you can leave it on top of the original pot if you want, as long as the heat is OFF). If the sauce gets too thick, you can thin it by whisking in a little hot water. I’d start with a teaspoon or so—too much water will also ruin the sauce.
Poach your eggs in about 2-1/2 inches of water, seasoned with about 3 tablespoons of vinegar. (I’ve used champagne vinegar when I wanted a little extra flavor in the eggs. Really, though, the vinegar just helps the eggs stay congealed. Without vinegar, the whites are likely to float off into the water, leaving you with a simmering yolk in what looks like egg-drop soup.) When the water is at a strong simmer—but not at a full boil!—slide the eggs in, one at a time. (I crack my eggs into small measuring cups, and then lower the edge of the measuring cup into the water before tipping the egg in slowly. This also helps the eggs from disintegrating.) You can use those nifty silicone egg poachers if you want. I don’t have any, though, so I do it the old fashioned way. Once all the eggs are in, turn the heat off and cover the pot, 4 minutes or slightly less for really runny yolks, 5 or so for medium, and 6 for hard. Don’t go over 6 or so minutes or the whites and yolks will overcook and you’ll have something resembling a hard-boiled egg without the shell. Remove the eggs carefully with a slotted spoon, turning slightly to allow any water to drain off. Egg water is yucky and makes everything soggy. Ideally, you’ll have everything laid out already so you can take the egg straight from the pot to the plate. If you can’t, though, just place them on a warm plate. Try not to leave the eggs sitting for too long, though, or they’ll get gummy.
Lay out your puff pastry (or english muffin, or other base), top with sausage, wilted spinach, ((I wilt spinach by throwing the leaves into a small pot, adding a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice and a couple of teaspoons of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and a healthy sprinkling of kosher salt. Turn the heat to low and turn the spinach constantly with tongs just until it turns bright green and starts to wilt. Turn the heat off immediately, and get the spinach out of the pot or you’ll have the nasty stuff we all avoided when we were kids.)) or whatever else you want, then perch the egg on top of it all. Spoon the hollandaise over it all and dig in!
I didn’t feel like doing the grocery shopping after choir yesterday (and I had plans to eat with friends, so I didn’t want to be late), so I shopped today after work instead. Since I was running short on time to make dinner when I got home, I threw something together on a whim. These whim recipes usually turn out pretty good. Here’s what I did:
Brown thin-cut chicken breasts (sometimes labeled as milanese) over medium-high heat in a little olive oil after seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Turn quickly or they’ll get overcooked; if some are thicker than others and don’t cook all the way through right now, don’t worry—they’re going back in the pan in a bit.
Remove the browned chicken from the pan. Toss in a handful of sliced mushrooms (I used about three), a handful of finely sliced scallions (about 1 scallion), and sauté until soft. Deglaze pan with the juice of one lime and about 1/2 cup of sake and turn heat to high to reduce a bit. When the sake and lime juice have reduced by about half, add about half a cup of chicken broth, maybe a bit more. Let the flavors come together by simmering for a minute or so more, then add the chicken back to the pan.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes, turning the chicken once. Remove the chicken again, turn the heat back to high and reduce down just a little more. Turn heat off, swirl in about a tablespoon and a half of good-quality butter (we’re working our way through a 2 pound block of butter from the farmer’s market, yum). At this point you can toss some cooked pasta in the sauce, or you can just pour it over the pasta and chicken. If you choose to toss the pasta in the sauce, reserve a bit to pour over the chicken to finish it off.
The flavor is reminiscent of miso soup, which is really interesting. I think this would probably work better with smaller pieces of chicken rather than with the cutlets, but the cutlets were what I had on hand. I’m definitely going to play with this some. ((A lot of people will cook this kind of recipe by first dredging the chicken in flour, which aids in browning and in thickening of the sauce. I’ve done that a lot in the past but I can never manage to get a sauce that doesn’t have a raw flour taste. That’s why I generally choose to use a wine of some kind and reduce it a bit to get a little thick; the butter also gives the sauce a little more tooth. It’s not a thick sauce, though, so if you like a thicker sauce, consider dredging in flour—or make a slurry of cornstarch and warm chicken broth and add it to the sauce while it’s simmering.))
I made pho Saturday night because I really wanted pho, but didn’t want to wait for delivery or go get it myself. Here’s the (relatively easy to make) recipe. ((Pho, for those who don’t know, is Vietnamese soup made with a fragrant broth and rice noodles. It usually contains some variety of meat, usually thinly sliced beef.))
6 cups beef broth
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 quarter-inch thick slice ginger root
Bring these to a boil in a large pot. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to a low simmer for 15 minutes.
While the broth is simmering, soak 3 to 6 oz. of flat rice noodles in hot water.
While the noodles soak, slice a half pound to a pound of trimmed sirloin into thin slices, against the grain. ((This is really important—if you don’t cut it across the grain, it will be impossibly tough when cooked.)) I actually couldn’t find any sirloin that looked decent, so I bought a London broil instead (it was a top round cut—London broil can be any variety of cuts). I didn’t do this because I was impatient, but one of the best ways to cut beef thin is to freeze it first. Next time I’ll do that—my slices were a little too thick to eat easily.
Once your beef is sliced, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Once it boils, drain the soaking noodles and throw them in the boiling water for about 45 seconds, then drain. Set aside.
Your broth should have been simmering for about 15 minutes now. If you feel like it, strain the broth into another pot; if you don’t, just fish the ginger, cinnamon, and star anise out. Put the broth, strained or not, over medium to low heat.
Time to add the last ingredients to the broth:
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 cup cleaned bean sprouts
The beef will cook in the hot broth. Don’t let it overcook, though! It’s ready to serve as soon as the beef changes color.
To serve, divide the noodles among your bowls (this recipe makes 4 smallish portions or 3 restaurant-sized portions), then ladle the broth (with the meat) over the noodles. Serve with basil, cilantro, sliced Asian chiles, sliced scallions, and more sprouts.
This turned out OK. Next time, I’ll use a different kind of beef broth—or I’ll make my own—since it was way too salty. (I used regular Swanson broth, since the store didn’t have the low-sodium variety. I also added some salt at the end of cooking, thinking the addition of the beef would dilute the flavor some; I won’t do that, again, either.) Also, since my local, walking-distance grocery store didn’t have star anise, I used anise seed instead. If you use anise seed, you might want to strain the broth; I did not, though, and just avoided scooping into the bottom of the pot when I served the soup to avoid getting any seed into the bowls. It was fine. I have leftovers; we’ll see if the anise seed makes the broth inedible after reheating, though.