Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

After many helpings of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, it was high time for Lolita to feed her inner barbarian by diving into a steaming hot plate of RED MEAT.  Steak, baby — that’s what I wanted.  The husbandman suggested “beef tips and gravy over rice,” reminiscing as he was about similar meals made in his childhood redneck home, but if you read my blog often enough you know I’m not really a rice fan.  Risotto?  Sure!  Sticky rice?  Certainly!  Chicken and rice?  OK!  But rice rice, ala Uncle Ben’s or Minute or some such derivation I just don’t ever feel a hankering for.  Perhaps it’s because my childhood Puerto Rican home saw rice and beans on every lunch and dinner plate throughout my *entire* youth, and I just got plumb sick of it.  In particular, “rice and gravy” just sounds bland, boring, and blech to me – even more so now that some big-time soup comany has been advertising what a “great meal” spilling a hot can of their Vegetable Beef soup over rice can be for the “working mother”.  The commercial, which is supposed to draw me in and make me crave this fare, frankly turns me off – for various food-snob reasons I best keep to myself.  So I compromised and suggested beef tips in gravy over mashed potatoes.  Since no food would be made or consumed in our household if I didn’t make it, he was rather compelled to agree – if he wanted to eat, that is.  And eat we did: perfectly tender morsels of medium-rare sirloin bathed in rich beef gravy studded with button mushrooms and cippolini onions, served over steaming cheddar-enriched mashed potatoes, accompanied by a fresh and nutty arugula salad.

Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

3/4lb sirloin tips
10oz button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
5-6 cippolini onions
1 quart beef broth
1 lb yellow potatoes
2 tbs butter
1 heaping tablespoon flour
3 cups turkey/chicken stock
4oz sour cream
4oz cheddar cheese
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
arugula
1 lemon
1 medium tomato
parmigiano reggiano cheese, for shaving

The potatoes will take a while to boil down, as will the gravy which will be reduced almost entirely from my quart of beef stock, so I start by washing and roughly cutting my potatoes and peeling and smashing my garlic.

The garlic gets minced, the onions peeled, and the mushrooms scrubbed.  I also cut the largest mushrooms in half, but keep the smaller ones whole.  I love whole mushrooms.

First, I bring my chicken stock (leftover from Thanksgiving) to a boil – adding enough water to raise the volume enough to cover my spuds, which I throw in and cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork — about 20 minutes.

In a large non-stick frying pan, I soften my garlic in some EVOO for a moment before adding the onions and mushrooms…

… along with about 1/2 of the beef stock.  I set this over high heat and stir often, until reduced by half, before I add the rest of the stock and do the same.  I’m trying to concentrate the flavors by removing as much water from the stock as possible, and the longer steaming time required to reduce this by halves will help the mushrooms absorb all that flavor until they’re completely cooked through.  The onions will soften nicely as well.  This takes about 20 minutes total.

Now that the glorious flavors are rich and deep, I want to thicken my sauce.  First thing I do, though, is remove most of the garlic by fishing it out with a strainer.  Why?  Because, I admit I think I added too much garlic, since the redolence of it wafting through my kitchen was so strong, so I removed the solids in the hopes this would add balance.  It did.  Anyway, to thicken, I needed something akin to a roux; this is how I do it when I’ve already got a hot liquid on the stovetop.  In a very small bowl, I add my flour and 1 tablespoon of butter…

… and using a deep spoon (I keep those plastic Japanese soup spoons in the kitchen for this reason), I fish out some of my boiling hot gravy and add it to the bowl with the flour and butter.

The heat from the gravy melts the butter, and using a fork I mix the contents of the bowl into a smooth slurry…

… before adding it to the rest of the gravy in the pan and mixing well.  This stays bubbling over high heat, which will thicken the sauce.

There was an unfortunate vein of cartilage (OK, I know I’m mixing my anatomical metaphors there, but you know what I mean) through part of one of these sirloin strips, but otherwise they were things of beauty.  I cut them into cubes and season them with salt and pepper before…

… throwing them into a very hot non-stick pan and searing them fully on each edge.

It only takes about 5 minutes to cook these tidbits, which I then add to the mushroom gravy for a couple minutes (not enough time to remove all the pink on the inside, but long enough to allow them to soak up some of the sauce.

Meanwhile, I make the husbandman mash the potatoes (perhaps an indelicate thing to do, considering he wanted rice, but he manned up).  After draining all the water/stock, he adds enough sour cream and butter to make the potatoes creamy, then shreds the cheddar cheese into the mix.  And that’s it; mashed potatoes are so elegantly easy to make.

A side salad to accompany this meal is definitely in order, but I don’t want to go overboard.  Arugula has just the right tang for savory steak, and brightening it with a squeeze of lemon, some fresh sliced red tomato, and some slivered onions is almost all it needs.  But the added bonus of some shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, to add salt and nuttiness, brings it over the top.

I remember going to Golden Corral as a kid and thinking their all-you-can-eat salad bar and “made to order” steaks were the highest of culinary delight.  My favorite dish was always the steak tips in mushroom gravy, which were delivered to the table from the kitchen in these cool little cast-iron skillets.  I thought it was comfort food at its best.  Ah, youth!  My mother-in-law still enjoys her Golden Corral, so I daresay she’d enjoy this homage to those youthful pleasures, and I hope she’d appreciate the difference between their mass-produced stuff and my homemade version.  My bites of sirloin are crusty-seared without and shot through with pink within, and the mushrooms burst on the tongue with rich beef, garlic, and onion flavor.  The smooth gravy absolutely demands to be sopped up by the cheesy potatoes, and the fresh green salad offsets all the richness just right.  This isn’t a Weeknight Wondermeal because it calls for a decent amount of ingredients, but on the whole it’s a pretty simple dinner to assemble – and it can be pretty cheap.  After days and days of leftover white meat, this is exactly the red meat I needed to put Thanksgiving away until next year.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am a total fish-head this time of year.  If it swims in the ocean, bottom-feeds off the sea-floor, or otherwise spends its life in salt-water, I want it during the summer.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a pretty poor swimmer; maybe if I eat more sea-creatures, I’ll absorb their floating abilities and be able to improve my dog-paddle.  I know, I know – suggesting that ingesting swimming things to make me a better swimmer is as logical as thinking that pears and avocados would taste good together because they have the same silhouette, but they DO taste good together, so…. (I’ll leave you to construct an irrefutable ratiocination for my syllogism).  Anyhoo – after the super-hot, thoroughly humid, and completely unpleasant weather recently (which threatened violent thunderstorms that never came, leaving us without the welcome break from humidity rain usually brings), I wasn’t too hungry either – so a light dinner was in order.  Hake is a nice, flaky white-fish, kind of like cod or haddock, and is perfect for a pan-sear.  Along with some quickly minced olives for a garnish and an easy side salad, this fresh, healthy supper was just right: it took only about 15 minutes to make, used very little heat (only one pan to quickly sear the fish), and cost only $20.  Technically, I made it on the weekend, but it shares all the right characteristics for a Weeknight Wondermeal (cheap, easy, and quick), so I trust you’ll forgive the misnomer…

Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

1 lb fresh hake filet
1 tbs butter
flour
seasoned salt, black pepper
fresh arugula
burrata cheese
tomatoes
fresh basil
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar
4-6 oz mixed olives, the brinier the better

I love this product, even though I have no idea what it really is.  OK – I have an idea: it’s fine sea salt blended with chinese-five spice and some sort of hot pepper, likely schezuan.  But despite the fact that the label is replete with English language errors (they marinated the powder?), it is truly hot and flv. and salty — and it is a really delicious seasoning.  I start by splitting my filet into two roughly equal sized halves (which requires that I cut it lengthwise, since it is thicker at one end – and I need to pieces that will cook in the same amount of time), and dousing them with this salt before dusting them thoroughly with flour.

A glug of EVOO and a pat of butter go into my largest non-stick pan over high heat.  You’ve seen me use this combination before: the EVOO alone can smoke and alter the flavor of the fish, but the butter alone can over-brown.  A mix of the two makes just the right balance of milk-solids to foam and straight oil to sizzle.

See?  Once it’s foaming…

… I gently lay my planks of fish on the froth.  Since these pieces are irregularly shaped, I’ll need to sort of roll them so that they brown on all sides, and I sear for about 3 minutes each time.

Like so.  I’m aiming for a nice golden brown, and for fully-cooked through fish — which takes about 10 minutes total.

Me and my burrata cheese.  I know I am a freak for it, but what can I say?  It’s DELICIOUS!  These three ingredients – tomatoes, basil, and burrata – are the makings of a lovely caprese salad…  …but I had some arugula, too, so I added that to the mix.  Oh – and these are OUR tomatoes, grown in our little garden in the sky, just in case you were wondering.  Their skins are a little thick, but they are wonderfully sweet.  I toss everything together with a little salt and pepper, some EVOO, and some white vinegar.

I honestly don’t know what I did before grocery stores started stocking antipasto bars.  Whole Food has a particularly good selection of olives, and I like to pick and choose some of the sharpest, briniest, and strongest varieties they have.

To remove the pits from those that had ‘em, I smash the olive with the flat of my blade, which sort of cracks them open and allows one to fish out the stone from the center.  Then I chop them all up to make a nice relish sort of thing.

My delicate, flaky fish is blanketed by a healthy sprinkling of salty, flavorful olives – a perfect marriage of mild and strong sensations.  The creamy burrata, peppery arugula, fragrant basil, and sweet tomato salad is a nice compliment.  Since I realized I was hungry nary 20 minutes ago and am now sitting down to dinner, I’m pretty happy with myself.  And the husband?  Why, he’s THRILLED – mostly because it tastes so damn good.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

This dinner is dedicated to some very special friends, for whom – to protect the innocent (and to avoid prosecution by FERPA) – I shall use a delightfully Victorian convention of referring to them by initials only (in no particular order – to avoid any implication of favoritism): AC, TP, KN, MS, CG, TD, CH, AL, SC, and SV. They not only invited me into their summer homes to enjoy lovely dinners prepared by them with affection and good humor, but they inspire me daily with their grace, wit, intelligence, youthful vigor, and general wonderfulness.  However, I am also spurred by a particular comment made by two of the above listed group —  a pair of ladies who suggested that my Weeknight Wondermeals, recipes I tout as super-simple and très-cheap, were “so fancy, and way too complicated!” What the what?  Dear girls, these offerings are the most basic of basics! If you can execute a successful Western blot, or re-engineer the severed limbs of an army of axolotl, you can TOTALLY make any Weeknight Wondermeal, if you have the right stuff in the kitchen.  To wit: tonight’s delectable dinner.  A tender, succulent, juicy salmon filet encrusted with honey and ginger oil, plus a similarly prepared but-also-soy-sauced scallop, served with a super-food salad.  I dare you, young friends, to make this dinner (note to TP: 86  the walnuts!): the effort is simple, but the reward is sublime!

Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

.75-1lb filet of salmon
2 very large scallops (these equalled .3lb)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup ginger oil (or fresh grated ginger blended with EVOO)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 avocado
1 fresh pear
1 small white onion
fresh arugula
baby tomatoes
parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, fresh snipped chives (for garnish)

Since I keep honey, ginger oil, and soy sauce in my pantry, my shopping list was pretty slim.  The most expensive items were these specimens of seafood: two huge, fresh sea scallops, and a lovely bright pink wedge of king salmon.  I want them to marinate a bit before I cook them, but they need to do so in separate bags.  Let me explain…

The salmon gets 3/4 cup of honey, 3 oz of ginger oil — a product I purchased at a nearby Asian supermarket, for about $2.49 — and lots of fresh cracked pepper.

I remove the adductor muscles from my scallops (here’s a pic), and then they get the rest of the honey and ginger oil, with the addition of the soy sauce – which is going to add just the right umame to the experience.  I seal both bags up nice and tightly, after removing as much air from them as I could, then I chuck ‘em in the fridge to marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, we plug in Little Red and get him all hot and bothered.  Clayton fashions a simple tray out of some foil paper, since we want to catch and cook the marinade as well as the proteins.  You’ll see what I mean a couple steps from now.

I brush a little EVOO onto the portion of the foil that will cook the scallops, but I want to skin of the salmon to stick to the foil (it will make it easier to remove the fish-flesh (and nothing but) later), so I leave that side clean.

The salmon goes on first, and I pour the marinade carefully over it’s pink yumminess to coat it.  It doesn’t matter if it spills onto the foil — in fact, it’s good for some of it to do just that.  As it cooks, the honey will thicken and brown, making a nice glaze.  Again, you’ll see what I mean soon.

The scallops go on next, but they’re doused in less of their marinade, since the soy will have already permeated the meat.  I do save both marinades, in case I want to add more a the halfway point.  For now, though, I lower the lid and walk away for 10 minutes.

My salad tonight was inspired by the similarity between the shape of a pear, and the shape of an avocado.  I surmised that if they had the same figure, perhaps they would go well together…  Yes,  yes – there are all sorts of things wrong with that supposition, but in this case it worked.  I removed the pit out of my avocado, and removed the seeds from my pear, before slicing each half into an equal number of thin wedges.

After fanning the pear slices onto my plates, then layering a fan of avocado over that, I toss some arugula with thin slices of white onion, some shavings of parmigiano reggiano, salt, pepper, and EVOO.

After 10 minutes, my seafood is halfway done, and – as you can see – the honey in the marinade has started to caramelize.  Using a basting brush, I get as much of that honey off the foil and onto the exposed flesh of my fish – top and sides.  It’s slickery — meaning it doesn’t stick to the fish very well unless you sort of scoop it onto the brush and dab it onto the pink.  Be patient, and get as much honey to stick to the fish as you can — it will be SO worth it.

Instead of basting the scallops, I rub them into the marinade darkening on the foil before flipping them.  It’s just like basting, but this time I’m going bottom up instead of top down.

See?  Even through the foil, the scallops are taking on lovely grill marks.  I close the lid for 10 more minutes, and watch the sun sink lower on the horizon over this hot summer day.

When I lift the lid again, my scallops are done (so I remove them to a warm plate to hold), and the honey/ginger marinade for the fish has turned a deep, dark brown.  Never fear!  This is what we wanted!  Using my basting brush one more time, I transfer as much of that black honey to the fish as I can.

Like so!  I lower the lid for another 5 minutes, go indoors, plate my salad, then come back out to fetch supper.  The good thing about using the foil is I only have to pick that up and bring the whole thing inside – no muss, no fuss!  Using a long, narrow spatula, I divide the filet into two equal portions, lifting the fish right off the skin which is stuck to the foil paper.  The flesh slides right off.

After finishing my salad with a couple home-grown cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts (for crunch), and garnishing the seafood with snipped chives, we’re ready to dig in.  The whole dinner has taken about 30 minutes of activity, and it cost only about $20 (plus pantry items, like the honey, soy, and ginger oil).  But what deliciosity!

The salmon is sweetly encrusted, with tender, moist flesh and a wee snap from the black pepper; the scallops are succulent and sweet, with the additional amped up savor of rich soy; and the salad is inspired: the fragrant, firm pear is perfectly complimented by the soft, nutty avocado, and the peppery arugula, salty cheese, and crunchy nuts fill the palate with delectable complexity, richness, and freshness.  Each bite was sheer enjoyment!

As the sun sets over Hamilton Street, setting the sky on salmon fire, Clayton and I dig into our salmon dinners with gusto.  So, dear friends — and you know who you are — are you up for trying this yourselves? I promise you’ll enjoy it!