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.