Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

DSCN4576The reason why we omnivores like veal is because of how tender it is.  Yes, the little critters are confined to a very small pen which keeps them from moving around a lot, which keeps their flesh meltingly soft by preventing the development of tougher muscles, which many people think is sad (or atrocious, depending upon your ilk).  I have no such scruples: I am gluttonous for foie gras; I revel in veal; I love lobsters boiled live; hell, I’d enjoy an ortolon if I ever got the chance to eat one.  If you consider me inhumane because of my eating habits, I certainly respect your opinion… but I’ll likely not invite you over for dinner when I’m pulling out all the stops.

All this is just preamble, though.  I bring up the tenderness of veal for one reason: to say that it’s even MORE tender when cooked sous vide.  Although not a particularly old technique, sealing foods in air-tight bags and cooking them in a water-bath set to the temperature at which the food should be served  is optimal for several purposes: by cooking the food in this manner, there is no risk of over-cooking, and there is no drying out of the surface layers of proteins by virtue of the much higher heat needed to bring the internal temp to the right degree; something magical with collagens and proteins and cellular stuff happens at a lower heat held for a long time — tissues turn to gelatin, and juices stay locked in place; and meats need only a quick browning on a hot pan at the last minute before service. But sous vide cookery generally requires the purchase of a prohibitively expensive and very space-consuming piece of equipment, since since money and space are two things I don’t have, I thought I’d have to struggle with maintaining the temperature in a saucepan on my stove, which I’ve done successfully once before, but which took lots of time standing by the stove stirring and adjusting the water with flame and ice (figuratively speaking).  Tonight’s technique was MUCH EASIER.  And the results?  Veal so perfectly cooked and tender I could cut it with a sharp glance.  Doused with demi-glaze, served with  potato crisps draped with gorgonzola cream, honey roasted carrots, and a snappy Meyer lemon gremolata, dinner transported me to Nirvana with each and every sweet sweet bite.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

1lb veal tenderloin, trimmed
4 tbs butter
1 tbs dried tarragon leaves
1 small bunch slender carrots
3 tbs EVOO
3 tbs honey
1 large russet potato
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 Meyer lemon
4 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, dried rosemary
1 package Classic Demi-Glaze Gold

DSCN4551Instead of a set-up shot, showing all my ingredients, I shall instead show you the star of tonight’s show: my Igloo cooler.  Based upon Serious Eats’ brilliant life hack article, I now know I don’t need to buy a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment to sous vide – all I need is a $20 cooler.  Y’see, not only do these babies keep things cool, they keep things HOT, too.  For anything that can be cooked sous vide in less than 5 hours and in less than 160° water (these are my approximations), a nice, tight sealing cooler will do the trick.

DSCN4554I start by rinsing, then patting dry, my veal tenderloin.  After rubbing it down with salt and pepper, I put a few pats of butter on the meat, along with the tarragon…

DSCN4555… before wrapping it tightly in plastic.

DSCN4556The whole package then gets set inside a large freezer zipper bag, and using a straw, I get as much air out of it as possible.  I zipped the bag up as close to the straw as I could before I started sucking like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then I even slightly zipped across the straw while sliding it out of the bag so that as little air as possible would leach back into the bag before it was sealed completely.  SeriousEats points out that one can also submerge as much of the bag as possible in water before sealing to push out all the air, but every time I’ve tried that I’ve always spilled a little water into the bag – and I didn’t want to get my meat wet.  This worked fine.

DSCN4558I thought I would have to use a kettle to get my water hot enough, but my kitchen faucet delivers water at close to 160° – so I actually had to add a little cold water to get my temp to a little over 142° F. I then filled up my largest, heaviest measuring vessel with hot water, too, so it would submerge – which I used to anchor my bag of meat which still wanted to float.  I shut the cooler, and walked away for 90 minutes.

DSCN4559Meanwhile, I used my mandoline set at the thickest setting to slice my russet potato into substantial chips.

DSCN4560I placed them in a single layer on top of a baking paper lined cookie sheet, and then brushed them with EVOO before sprinkling some salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano on them.

DSCN4561I also trimmed the greens off my carrots, peeled them, and spread them across a ceramic baking dish.

DSCN4562Someone gave me this lovely raw honey, which is very potent and delicious.

DSCN4563The carrots get doused in EVOO, salt, pepper, and honey, and then both they and the potatoes get placed into a 400° oven for about 30 minutes.  At the halfway point, I flip the potatoes and roll over the carrots for even cooking.

DSCN4564Gremolata is one of those condiments that isn’t used as often as it should be.  The traditional mixture of minced parsley and garlic with grated lemon zest adds snap and freshness to tons of preparations, and it goes particularly well with rich meats.

DSCN4565A little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and EVOO gets added to the veg, and all is mixed well.

DSCN4566Ahhhh – gorgonzola.  DSCN4569I melt a tbs of butter in a saucepan, add my cream, and then my gorgonzola to make a cheese sauce.  On another eye, I prepare the demi-glaze with only a few ounces of water (I want a nice, rich drizzle of flavor, and not a gravy) and a dash of minced garlic.

DSCN4568My 90 minutes have passed, and I eagerly reach into my Igloo to see how my veal tenderloin looks.  And it looks MARVELOUS.  It is perfectly cooked to a lovely medium rare – but it admittedly looks a little flaccid and unappetizing all greyish like that….

DSCN4570… which is why I’ve got an oiled, cast iron skillet smoking on one burner.  I sear my tenderloin on all sides, propping up the narrow edges (which make my meat want to roll over) by clipping the tongs in the ‘closed’ position and resting them flat against the edge of the pan.  I sear for about 1 minute all the way ’round – so 6 minutes total.  I’m looking for the Malliard reaction, which is a fancy way of saying I want to brown the outside of this tender morsel.


DSCN4575Just the extreme edges are tantalizingly browned, and the insides are exactly medium rare throughout.

DSCN4577The explosion of flavors on my plate just blew me away.  The sweet carrots, crispy potatoes and sharp, creamy gorgonzola sauce, the rich, garlicky demi-glaze offset by the fresh, green gremolata, and the oh-so-silky-and-tender-and-delicious veal medallions.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prepare veal any other way, and now I can’t wait to try the same technique with strip steaks and filet mignon, and even eggs for perfect Benedicts.  But now – I EAT!

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
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.

Kale and Avocado Salad with Pan-Seared Steaks

Just because Lolita hasn’t been posting doesn’t mean Lisa hasn’t been cooking — or, at least, feeding people — this past week.  In point of fact, I’ve been responsible for almost 1000  covers in the last 8 days; in restaurant vernacular, that’s a pretty decent week.  Apparently, I’m a good event planner, and after catering my first real life full gig for 60 people last Thursday, it would appear I’m a great caterer, too.  I’m not sure this is what I want to do when I grow up, but I do know I had fun and that I was fully gratified by having satisfied some mighty worthy folks.

But tonight’s post is motivated by a different prompt: kale.  It’s fresh in season this spring, and Clayton is currently harvesting seven different varieties on the F. Busa Farm out on the Lexington Road in Concord.  We love kale chips, and I’ve sauteed it, or wilted it in soups and stews, but I wanted to try something different tonight.  Plus, I’ve promised the members of our C.S.A. recipe ideas, and, anticipating the heat-wave heading towards Boston, I thought something raw and fresh would do the trick.  Add a simple pan-seared steak (vegetarians: try searing a cauliflower steak instead of beef!) with shitake mushrooms and you’ve got one elegant – and super good-for-you – dinner for a sweet late spring evening’s supper.

Kale and Avocado Salad with Pan-Seared Steaks

1 small bunch fresh kale
1 ripe avocado
1 small red onion
shaved ParmigianoReggiano cheese
Ginger oil
White balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 8oz strip steaks
8oz shitake mushrooms
1 cup red wine
1 tbs butter

Out of the many varieties of kale growing on the farm right now, Clayton picked me a few stalks of a couple different types: these are red russian and toscano.  Kale is a “super-food” – it’s good for your skin, your digestion, and some say it’s a cancer preventative.  Combining it with avocado brings it up to Justice League uber-super status, and the EVOO doesn’t hurt either.

So here’s how you destem kale: wrap your pointer finger and thumb around the base of the stem, and hold onto the very end with your other hand while dragging the “o” made by your fingers down the shaft until the tender sweet leaf is completely separated from the bitter spine.  Easy peasy.

After removing all the stems to the compost bin, I wash, dry, then roughly chop all my kale before tossing it into a bowl.

This fantastic EVOO was recently half off at Whole Foods, and I purchased a few bottles.  Doesn’t it look lovely in the sun, especially with my picturator and picturoven in the background?  A few healthy glugs of this gets added to the bowl.

Kale has to be coaxed into absorbing EVOO, which I do by gently massaging the oil into each leaf.  The kale needs to marinate in oil for a while to soften somewhat, so I do this well before I worry about the rest of my meal.

I love avocado.  It’s so pretty.  And the ginger oil in the background was a last minute addition —  a tablespoon gave the EVOO just the right, fresh zing.

I set my well tossed salad of onion, avocado, kale, salt, pepper, and oils in the fridge to chill and wilt for 45 minutes.

The strip steaks at Whole Foods were HUGE, so I had my tattooed butcher dude slice the thickest one in half width-wise to make two half pound slabs o’ beef.

A healthy sprinkling of mystery salt and cracked black pepper gets rubbed into the meat…

…. before it gets draped into a sizzling hot pan with a tbsp of EVOO.

I use the flip-once-a-minute technique, which allows the meat to sear nicely without getting too grey/charred/overcooked on the outside.  Since these steaks are pretty slender, it only takes about 4 minutes on each side – so 8 flips all together – before they’re perfectly medium rare.

These are my shitake mushrooms, which I’ve trimmed and washed.  When the steaks are just ready, I remove them to the plates to rest…

… before adding the ‘shrooms, some red wine, and a pat of butter to the pan to create a nice quick gravy.

The final ingredient is for the kale salad: some lovely, aged pamigiano reggiano cheese.

I shave the cheese over my plated salad.

Quick and easy steaks with a fast and simple pan gravy, served with a super-nutritious raw kale and avocado salad — an ideal summer dinner for those of us who like fresh, hearty and delicious.  And who of us doesn’t love that?

Summer’s First Grill: ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

It’s SUMMER, baby! After a long, but relatively mild winter, a super-busy spring, a difficult month, a vexing week, and a hard hard morning for Clayton and I (those of you in the know, know to what I am alluding…), we can finally say we got our first real summer evening in Chez Fontaine.  After taking a stress-reducing bike ride through downtown Boston, to the Seaport for lunch, to the North End for meat, to Haymarket for veggies, and back home again (14 miles, more or less), we settled on our lovely little deck, dusted off Little Red, and had ourselves some supper in the fading sunshine.

ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

2 8oz hand-trimmed NY Strip Steaks
1 lb fresh, thin asparagus
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 lime
zest of 1 lemon
6-8 cloves garlic
2 small foccaccia
1 medium sized tomato
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried parsley flakes, sea salt, cracked black pepper

I start by  trimming the woody ends off my slender asparagus spears and peeling 1/2″ or so of some of the outer green off the ends of the stalks.

Into a large zipper bag they go, along with several glugs of EVOO, a glug of white balsamic vinegar, some dried oregano, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a healthy dose of garlic powder, and salt and pepper.  I let these marinate for about 20 minutes while I prep my chimmichurri.

Traditional chimmichurri sauce, of Argentinean fame, is made from parsley – but I like mine predominantly made of cilantro. The peppery snap of the sauce pairs really well with grilled meats — from land, air, and sea.  I pull the leaves off a small bunch, wash and dry them well, and then chop the crap out of them.

I smash my garlic cloves, reserve two of them for later, and then finely mince the rest.

The chopped cilantro and minced garlic go into a bowl, along with a few dashes of dried oregano, a couple tablespoons of dried parsley, the zest of one lemon and the juice from one lime, along with salt and pepper.

Finally, I add just enough of my best EVOO to the bowl to cover the herbs, and I mix this very well.  Letting it sit so it can get to know itself better for a little while is a good idea.

The handsome fella at Sulmonia Meat Market in Boston’s North End ….

… trimmed these babies off a huge hunk of so-fresh-it-was-still-mooing meat – and I was happy.   I sprinkled them liberally with salt and pepper to prep them for the grill.

Here are some cute foccacias I got at Trader Joe’s, of all places.

I slice them into 1/2″ thick wedges, then spread them on a cookie sheet doused with EVOO, swishing them around a bit so they can soak up its olivey goodness.  And here is one of Lolita’s jerry-rigs: I then set my cookie sheet onto a slightly larger sheet before setting them both – one on top of the other – across both my stove-top’s back burners.

By raising the heat on both eyes to medium, I’m sort of making myself a little flat-grill.  Once I get a nice tan sear on the 1st side, I flip all the slices over, push them around in the EVOO so they get nice and greased up, and then drop the heat to low so they can continue to toast leisurely.  This makes perfectly crunchy, crispy bread – ideal for Pa amb tomàquet, one of my favorite Barcelona foods.

Quite literally “bread with tomato,” Pa amb tomàquet was served to us in Spain many different ways, but for my home use I like to keep it super simple: for two people, all I do is slice one medium tomato in half, salt it liberally (especially if it’s a hot-house tomato like this one, which lacks native flavor), and set it face down on top of a crushed clove of garlic and a couple tablespoons of high-quality EVOO in a ramekin with just the right circumference.

Using a couple of tiny forks (designed for picking crabmeat out of claws and legs), I stab through the center of each tomato half.  When the time comes, we’ll each rub the oiled and garlicky face of our tomatoes across the toasted surface of our slices of bread, depositing pulp and deliciousness on each bite. The more I squish my tomato, the more juicy redness I get to enjoy on my bread – and if I want a more garlicky snap I scrape the crushed clove across the scratchy toast.  Who needs butter?  Along with my S&P and my chimmichurri, I bring this out to my deck to start the steaks.

The asparagus goes on first – because we like the heads to get nice and crispy.  Clayton lays them carefully across Little Red’s grate and starts them roasting for about 10 minutes.

While my spears roast, I sit back and enjoy the best thing about our tiny little apartment among the treetops: our view.  I know it might not look like much to many of you, dear readers, but it’s MINE – and the exorbitant amount of money we spent on our 592 sq ft apartment in Cambridge, MA, was paid to secure this piece of sky.

In a few months, our tomato bushes will start bearing fruit; until then I love the trees and Easter egg colored buildings that surround us.

Our southern view.  When the Red Sox are playing, we can hear the game from here, and watch it on the DirectTV blimp that floats overhead.

After my 10 minutes have passed, it’s time to throw the steaks on the grill.

After 5 minutes on this side, Clayton starts the delicate task of rolling the asparagus spears over, pulling them to the front of the grill …

… so he can flip the steaks over and onto the back of the grill, where the electric heating coil can be raised slightly to sear the meat even more effectively.  We close the lid and let this sizzle for about 8 minutes, or until the steaks are a perfect medium rare.

My bed of crispy, seared asparagus spears serves as the base for my tender, grilled steaks and a healthy slopping of tangy, sharp, savory chimmichurri sauce.  The crunchy, garlicky, tomato bread pairs perfectly with the juicy beef and snappy flavors.  A light, simple meal with a complex set of flavors — just what our first night of summer demanded.  And this is one kind of directive I never mind obeying — the “eat something good” kind.

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

This Valentine’s day, my one true love bought me two dozen perfect roses and two bottles of lovely champagne.  I may be a harpy to him from time to time, but my needs on silly days like this are simple – and he met them with just want I wanted: beauty and booze.  Considering that he is still healing from knee surgery and had to hobble on his crutches to and from Whole Foods in freezing weather to do this, it was actually super-nice.  So I had to make him a super-nice dinner to show him my love for him.  Thanks to Savenor’s on Kirkland, I decided to do so with veal steaks, risotto, and foie gras — I mean, what says love better than that?  Topped with a little tart cherry, an herbalicious veloute, and some oyster mushrooms, and this didn’t just say love, it said SEX, baby.  (And I leave it to you to take from that what you will…)

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

2 veal t-bones, about 12 ounces each
1/4 lb fresh foie gras
1/2 wild mushrooms (these are oyster)
2 shallots
1 cup arborio (short grain) rice
1/4 lb fontina cheese
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 cup cream
2 tbs butter (not pictured)
1 tsp truffle oil (not pictured)
1 qt chicken broth (not pictured)
1/2 cup white wine (not pictured)
1/4 cup dried bing cherries (not pictured)
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Despite the highbrow nature of this meal, it doesn’t really take too long.  The most time is spent on the risotto, which takes about 30 minutes to get just perfect, so I start there.

Half my minced shallots get sweated in a couple glugs of EVOO in my small saucepan before I dump my rice on top and stir well.  You have to sort of toast the grains before adding any liquid; this coaxes them into absorbing the wine and stock more effectively.  All this is done on medium heat, by the way.

On my other back burner, I set the chicken broth to a medium simmer; I want to add it warm to my risotto as I go, which will also help the liquid absorb.  But first, I add my wine, then stir well until all the liquid has disappeared.

I then drop the heat to its lowest setting, and add 4 oz of broth.  I stir well consistently, and add more broth each time the last batch disappears.  I revel in the plumpifying of my wee rice grains, and bask in the sauce that forms and thickens with every stir.  It takes 30 minutes to do this, requiring regular – but not constant – attention.  Stir and add, stir and add, until the rice is tender but still toothsome and bound together by its thick, fragrant, flavorful rice gravy.

As my risotto works, I get started on my velouté.  This is a mother sauce, traditionally made with white stock and roux, to which I’ve added some cream, herbs, and aromatics.  Ideally, it should be made in advance, cooled, and then reheated before service in order to really concentrate its delicate flavor.  1/2 of my remaining shallots get sweated in two tablespoons of simmering butter along with a tablespoon each of thyme and rosemary leaves.

Once the shallots transluce, I sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the butter and whisk well to incorporate all the ingredients and simmer on medium low until the roux begins to turn beige.

Like so!

Finally, I add about 1 cup of my warm broth, and my cup of half and half (which is not traditional, but yummy nonetheless), and bring this to a simmer to thicken for about 8 minutes.

After seasoning with salt to taste, I removed my sauce from the heat, strain all the solids, then chill it in the fridge until I’m ready to plate – when I will gently heat it back up before service.

My steaks will take about 15 minutes to make total, so I get a pan all hot and ready before greasing it up with a glug or two of EVOO.

I salt and pepper my steaks, and smack them down on said smoking hot pan to sizzle and sear.

I sear not just their backs and fronts…

… but also the ribeye edges…

…and the tenderloin edges.  Then I stick the whole pan into a 425° oven for 8 minutes, until they are a perfect medium rare.

After I remove my steak pan from the oven, I move my steaks to a warmed platter to settle, and I through the rest of my shallots, another teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary, and another glug of EVOO into the pan along with my chopped fungus of the day.  2 minutes of tossing to melt these babies into umame joy is all it needs.

The piece of resistance (BTW – I totally do that on purpose; I know the phrase is pièce de résistance, but I like it may way bettah) is this delightful hunk of foie gras, which I didn’t notice was heart-shaped until I got home and took it out of the bag.  How apropos! I split it in half thickness-wise, so that I can maintain the shape for each of us. (After all, neither of us wants to eat a broken heart (shape) on Valentine’s Day!)

Foie only take a moment to sear, but it needs a superhot non-stick pan, and it not only releases a lot of delicious fat, but it smokes like hell.  I made the mistake of inhaling open-mouthed some of that smoke, and it sort of choked me up for a while.  But the foie needs nothing but a sear on each side to transform it into the quivering, sexy, hunk of haute cuisine junk it is.

Foie gras benefits from something sweet/tart to compliment it, so I grabbed a handful of dried red cherries and chopped them into a sticky, simply compote sort of thing.

As I plate my steaks and mushrooms, I throw my fontina cheese and a teaspoon of black truffle oil into my perfectly tender risotto and stir will to melt.

Tender, delicious veal steaks, topped with the sumptuous unctuousness of seared foie gras, tempered with the tangy sweet bite of scarlet cherry.  Served with a delicate herbed cream sauce, silky, nutty, and fulfilling risotto, and the woody chew of buttery mushrooms – this plate of passion really got our motors running.  Take about a bodacious plate.  Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Steak Frites

Clayton just had surgery.  He needs blood – and lots of it.  I know it’s akin to superstition, but I have a primal instinct to replenish lost blood with flesh.  After teaching two semesters of vampire literature, I wonder if this is … er… strange, but I choose to believe it is simply instinctual.  As a woman, the loss of blood is deeply  appreciated; as a wife, I think my husband needs it, too, when he’s been cut open and fundamentally repaired, which is the essence of knee surgery (skin sundered, bones splintered, bolts fastened, flesh sewn). So tonight’s meal was steak — steak and potatoes, or, as the French so elegantly term it: steak frites.  The sveltest of fried spuds, the richest of beef slabs, and the garlicky-est of aiolis — the fruits of meat and earth, with little in between.  Pure.  Wholesome. Rejuvenating. $20 bucks, and one hour.  What more can you ask for?

Steak Frites

2 1/2-3/4lb strip steaks or ribeyes, nicely marbled
2lb russet potatoes, thoroughly scrubbed
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbs white vinegar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
sea salt, black pepper
2 qts canola oil, for frying
3 tbs chopped cilantro

I love french fries… love ’em love ’em love ’em.  But I’m picky about them – I like ’em thin and extra crispy, two things I have never before achieved when frying in my wok at home.  But I recently figured out that I could use my deep pasta pot as a deep fryer, which allows me to really crank the oil to the right temperature, so I thought it was high time I tried making fries again.  Using my cheapy handheld mandoline, set at its thickest setting (which is still only about 1/8″ thick), I slice my three scrubbed spuds into slender planks, dropping them into a large bowl of cold water.

Then I slice those planks into shoestring fries – easy peasy.

I rinse my fries several times with cold water — until it runs clear and all the foggy starch has washed out — then I let them sit covered in the coldest possible water I can get from my tap for about 15-20 minutes.

Finally, using paper towels, I dry my fries as best I can.  I don’t want any water to hit the hot sizzling oil — just naked spud.

My oil is heated to about 350°.  I drop about 1/3 of my potato sticks into the fryer and let them cook for about 10 minutes, or until they are just stiff and just barely golden brown.  This is the par-cooking step.  I do this with each of my other two batches, too, giving the oil a minute or so in between each one to allow it to reheat.

See?  I set them on paper towels I’ve laid out to soak up the excess oil.

Using mayo, minced garlic, sea salt, cracked black pepper, a little white wine vinegar, some sour cream, and some heavy cream – I whip up a quick aioli.  I admit, I sort of Swedish Chef it — I just keep adding here and there until I like the taste and the texture. I move this to an empty squeeze bottle for service later.

My steak I’ve salted and peppered, and I add them to a searing hot pan dressed with a little sizzling peanut oil.  I brown them on both sides, then chuck the whole pan into a 425° oven for about 10 minutes to finish off.  I’m aiming for a nice medium rare, juicy steak with its own rich drippings.

The last step is to re-fry all my french fries in the still hot oil.  This takes only about 2-3 minutes – so I had to keep an eye on it so they wouldn’t over-brown.  I remove them from the fryer and toss them with sea salt right before plating.

There is nothing more satisfying than meat and potatoes, and this meal is no exception.  The simplest of steaks, rendered to juicy, served with crisp shoestring french fries, dressed with a garlicky mayo based dressing and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.  You know it’s perfect when you can’t get enough of each flavor – the fry, the meat, and the aioli – on your fork.  The drippings from the steak get sopped up by the potato straws, which stay crispy and delicious from the first bite to the last.  Although Clayton’s doctor didn’t order prescribe this,  Nurse Lolita knows best – and this prescription for deliciousness was just the right medicine for a post-operation Monday night.

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

It was finally cold today.  Like 20° F.  For December in New England, this should be par for the course by now, but we’ve been having an unseasonably warm and dry winter so far.  Generally, anything in the double digits this time of year feels relatively balmy, but given the congenial temperatures up to this point, today felt particularly nippy.  And what’s to be done about a nippy day?  Why, a warm, hearty dinner, of course!  After our now-regular bi-monthly trip to Blood Farms, we were laden with protein pabulum just begging to be devoured.  I selected a nice, fresh pair of filet mignons, coupled them with an assortment of wild mushrooms, some pan-seared Vidalia onion shoots, and some confetti spuds to make a real nice meat & potatoes meal that warmed us from the insides out.

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

2 8oz tenderloin steaks
2-3 fresh sweet onion shoots and stalks (these are Vidalia salad onions)
12-16 small potatoes (I have creamer, red, and potato spuds here)
8oz wild mushrooms (these are chanterelle, shitake, and woodear)
sea salt, black pepper, oregano
sour cream
shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese

This could very well be called a weeknight wondermeal, since it doesn’t take very long and since it has so few components.  But, it made it on the weekend, and I don’t feel like misrepresenting myself to you, dear readers, so it will lack that particular distinction.  The longest cooktime is for the potatoes, which have to boil first before I can smash them into submission.  I throw them into boiling salted water for 20 minutes, or until I can pierce them easily with a fork

Sometimes I beat myself up about the simplicity of my ingredients.  I mean really — I have 4 basic items making up today’s meal – how is that masterful?  But then I think about how freshly sourced all my food is… how locally grown… organic… natural.  And I think about the taste — and just how happy my husband and I are after each and every meal I make.  Simple flavors, masterfully combined – that’s my niche.  Besides, I know where almost all my vegetables have been grown, and by whom, and how recently picked they are; all the meat I eat is from area abattoirs, and it’s all been butchered within days (if not hours) of when it finally passes my lips; even my diary products are mainly from Massachusetts, with the exception of finer imported items from Italy, Spain, and France.  I eat no processed foods, no mass-produced boxed junk, few snacks, and fewer sweets.  So even if Lolita is packing a little more chub on her these days, it’s all from food that is good, wholesome, fresh, natural, and healthy.  Like these here mushrooms: they are so newly harvested from New England forest floors that they have spring and vigor still coursing through their little fungi bodies.  All they’ll need is a quick saute over hot flavor, so I prep them now by washing, drying, and slicing them before I set them aside for later.

Back when Clayton and I still called Georgia home, we lived only a short drive up I75 from Vidalia (pronounced in redneck: vuh-DAY-lee’uh), from whence these beautiful onion shoots hail.  Of course, we now live 2000 miles away, so these veggies don’t conform to my locavore habits, however given my past proximity to the sweet onion capital of the world, I can still lay claim to a familiarity with this produce.  They were featured at Whole Foods, and they looked so sprightly and snappy that I had to have them.  I’ve washed, trimmed, and split them into halves.

I’ve heated my largest skillet to high with a few glugs of EVOO, and I force these shoots as best as I can into the pan.  They’re too large, y’see — so I have to wrastle them onto the surface, trying to coat their green shoots with hot oil so they’d wilt, which they did quite nicely.  Almost immediately, an aroma of searing sharp charring fills the kitchen, and it is good.  These cook for about 10 minutes before I add anything else to the pan.

The potatoes are perfect, so I drain them and spill them out over a couple of EVOO’d baking sheets.  Since they will each make a disc about 1 1/2 – 2″ in diameter, they need room to spread out.

See what I mean?  Using a fork, and my fingers to keep everything together, I smash each spud into a flat little patty, then douse them again with EVOO, salt, pepper, and oregano.  These pans go into a 350° oven to crisp for about 15 minutes.

Just enough time for me to finish my steaks and veggies.  I shove all my searing onions to one side of my hot pan, then move that part of the pan sort of off the heat, leaving the electric eye underneath only about 1/2 the pan – where I place my salted and peppered tenderloin steaks.  Using the flip once a minute technique, I cook these steaks for about 5 minutes on each side until they are perfectly medium rare.

When the steaks are ready, I plate them on top of my onions on warmed plates and set aside.  A few more glugs of EVOO gets added to the pan, and in go the mushrooms, where I saute them over high heat until they are wilted and a little caramelized on their best bits (about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, my spuds are crispy edged and creamy inn’ed  and I remove them, one by one…

…and stack them with shavings of parmigiano reggiano cheese in between each disc.  These potato towers get topped with a dollop of sour cream and my minced onion greens.

Like so!

Juicy, tender, tenderloin steaks with charred onions and seared mushrooms, served with crispy crunchy creamy potatoes.  Using pure flavors, simple but sophisticated ingredients, and straightforward cooking techniques, I’ve assembled a supper that would be at home at the finest white-tablecloth bistrots as easily as it would be served off of a rustic hearth in a woodsy cabin during a winter white out.  Earth and turf extraordinaire!