Braised Short Rib Matzohdilla

DSCN4796I get my inspiration from all sorts of places.  Since the husbandman and I are on the cheap these days, I usually peruse the menus of Boston’s finer restaurants, looking for what they’re serving which I can replicate at home. But that’s my high-brow approach; sometimes, it’s better to be influenced by popular culture.  For example:  Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans, one of my most popular posts, was inspired by this ditty on the new Looney Tunes show.  Tonight’s meal crawled into my imagination thanks to Sean and Gus from USA’s Psych; a silly show, to be sure, but one that makes me laugh every time I watch it.  On their 100th episode, Sean – with his customary wit – celebrates a verbal mashup of Yiddish and Spanish by coining the term “Matzohdilla”, which Gus thinks “sounds delicious”.  So did I, dear readers – so did I.  The concept of a quesadilla made with matzohs instead of tortillas just lit me on fire!  My mind immediately conjured a delectable vision of crusty pressed unleavened flat-grilled crackers stuffed with gooey cheese and savory meat, served Mexican style with some guac and sour cream for garnish.  I ran pell-mell to Whole Foods to make my dream a reality.

DSCN4772

Braised Shortrib Matzohdilla

1lb boneless short ribs
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 qt beef broth
3 slices bacon
1 can black beans
1 bottle dark beer
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
6oz cream cheese
1 avocado
1 small red onion
3-4 tablespoons minced cilantro
4-5 tablespoons diced tomatoes
4 matzohs
sour cream
garlic powder, red chile powder, ground cumin, black pepper, sea salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, EVOO

DSCN4775My original idea was to make carnitas for this meal, but I figured I was already slapping kosher in the face with the inclusion of cheese and cream cheese in my recipe; pork would just be cruelly insensitive.  (Of course, I ended up using bacon in my beans (see below), but bacon doesn’t count, right?)  Instead, I chose some lovely beef short ribs; I rubbed them down with a nice healthy blend of my dry spices (salt, pepper, cumin, garlic & onion powder, paprika, chile powder), and dusted them with flour before searing them thoroughly in hot EVOO in a large pan deep enough to submerge them in braising liquids.

DSCN4777After they’ve been browned on each side and all the edges, I dump my tomatoes and 1/2 my minced garlic into the pan…

DSCN4778…before adding my broth.  These babies floated a bit, but they eventually sunk to the bottom.  I throw a lid on top, lower my heat to a bare simmer, and let these braise for about 90 minutes…

DSCN4779b… or until I can easily shred the meat with a fork – like so.  Um: YUM!

DSCN4780Apparently, I can’t avoid pork.  I tried – I really did.  But before I even knew my auto-pilot had kicked in, I’d done gone and fried up a few slices to include in my beans.  What can I say?  I’m a degenerate.

DSCN4781After my bacon crisped, I dumped in my beans and a few scoopfuls of the braising liquid from the shortribs, and my bottle of beer.  I let these simmer on medium heat until most of the liquid had burned off, then I mash up everything with a fork to give them a nice, spreadable texture.

DSCN4788Time to break out the matzohs!  I spread cream cheese on each cracker, then layer them with meat, beans, and cheese before carefully pressing them together.

DSCN4789Like so!

DSCN4790I get my largest, non-stick skillet set to medium, and I brush it down thoroughly with a little EVOO.

DSCN4791I very carefully lay my matzohdilla in the pan, pressing down gingerly to flatten.  I made two of these – one for me, and one for El Husbandious; I sort of snapped one, but I am happy to say they stayed together pretty well, enough so that none of the filling leached out.  As the matzohs heated in the oil, they became slightly pliable – but without losing their crunch!

DSCN4792The trick to an excellent grilled cheese anything is time.  The heat should be set at a relatively low level, or else the outside can burn before the inside melts.  With constant gentle pressure, it took about 5 minutes on each side for these babies to cook up, and for all the cheddar cheese inside to melt and ooze.  Since I only had one pan large enough, I had to make these in shifts; I placed the cooked one on a sheet in a low oven to stay warm while I grilled up the other one.

DSCN4793See how nice?  All my cheese is gooey and ready, and the matzohdilla is born!

DSCN4793aIn a separate bowl, I whip up a quick guacamole: mashed avocado, diced tomato, diced red onion, minced garlic and cilantro, paprika, salt, pepper, and chile powder.  Mix that all up, and you’re good to go.

DSCN4795My cultural mash-up is complete!  I can’t really express how good this was: the matzohs stayed crispy and crackly, but they didn’t fall apart or crumble under the pressure of my teeth; the cream cheese/cheddar cheese blend was rich and creamy, with the cheese stretching from bite to bite like a most excellent pizza; the savory beans and tender, shredded meat were hot, flavorful, and delicious.  I admit, Clayton and I rather laughed our way through the whole meal.  It was freaking amazing, but I’d never seen or heard anything quite like it before (and I searched the internet for recipes – to no avail!), and it just seemed so silly to have been inspired by a cast-off quote from a TV show.  But, in this case, silly was super-delicious.  I wonder what other mash-ups I can come up with?  Chicken Tikka Chow Fun?  Caribbean Cassoulet?  Pad Thai Pizza?  Suggestions are welcome!

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.

DSCN4571Perfect.

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
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.

Steak with Drunken Shiitake Cream, Manchego Spinach, and Sweet Potato Spears

There are times in this carnivorous woman’s life when she absolutely needs meat.  Last night was one of those nights.  If I looked back over my past posts, I’m sure I’ll see a few where I’ve opened with this sentiment before, and I’m quite sure I’ll do so again.  (Check back in a month.)  That doesn’t change the fact that last night’s meatstravaganza was essentially a blue plate dinner: steak, spinach, and fries.  But since it was one of Lolita’s meatstravaganzas, the steak was a crusty seared medium-rare ribeye bathed in shiitake mushrooms drowning in brandy and cream, the spinach was melted with nutty manchego cheese, and the fries were EVOO roasted sweet potato spears — all three offerings several orders of magnitude better than one’s typical diner fare.  And all just the ticket to replenish my dwindling energy.  Today, I’m a powerhouse of cow-fueled enthusiasm.  Thanks, Bessie!  You were delicious…

Steak with Drunken Shiitake Cream, Manchego Spinach, and Sweet Potato Spears

1 nice, thick cut ribeye steak
1 small, narrow long sweet potato
4oz shiitake mushrooms
1 shallot
4-6oz baby spinach
1/2 cup shredded manchego cheese
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
EVOO
sea salt, cracked black pepper

As you can see, almost all of my ingredients came from Trader Joe’s down the street, where the husbandman now has a part-time job while he goes to school (and where he was while I enjoyed this meal solo).  I never used to buy their meats, preferring to get mine from Whole Foods around the corner, but we need the discount so I’ve been trying them out lately.  I have to say, I’m pretty impressed!  This was a beautiful steak.

This could almost qualify as a weeknight wondermeal, since I had it finished within 30 minutes, but there are a few too many ingredients and cookware needed to really make the grade.  Still, it was fairly simple to make, especially considering the excellent result.  At any rate, roasting the sweet potato was going to take the longest period of time, so I started by washing it and slicing it into 8 spears.  These get tossed with EVOO, salt, and pepper, and laid out on a baking sheet.  I pop ‘em in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, during which time I make everything else.

Steak.  All I add to it is some fresh cracked black pepper.  I throw it into a medium hot non-stick pan, and I use the flip once-a-minute technique to capture all those lovely juices, and to sear it to a perfect medium rare.  This takes about 10 flips total – for about 5 minutes on each side.

When it’s almost ready, I get my spinach started by simply throwing it all into a hot pan, and tossing it until it wilts.  No water – no butter – just spinach and heat.  It actually sort of melts on its own, and releases its own juices, but I want a drier product than a typical creamed spinach which is why I’m prepping it this way this time.

As the spinach starts to reduce, and when my steak is done, I move it to a warm plate and keep it covered while I make the sauce.  I start with a minced shallot, sauteed until translucent in a glug of EVOO.

I then add my washed and patted dry shiitake mushrooms, which I’m keeping whole.  Unlike crimini or white mushrooms, which have plumper caps and take longer to soften, I throw these in whole, along with half of my brandy to get them started.  I toss this very well, distributing the heat, so that my mushrooms can wilt and soften.

Like my spinach, which is completely shrunken and dense now, instead of  leafy and voluminous.

In goes my shredded manchego cheese and my milk (which just helps melt the cheese).  I toss this well until everything is nicely incorporated, and season it with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I add my sour cream and the rest of my brandy to my mushrooms, which I mix well again and cook over medium heat until the sauce is thick and creamy.

Finally, I pull out my sweet potato spears, which are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

My tender, chewy mushrooms have soaked up all that brandy, scenting them with floral sweetness, imbuing the cream sauce with delightful nuances.  The bed of spinach which props up my juicy bloody steak is a delicious balance of vetegal greenness and nutty Spanish cheese, and the caramelized potato spears provide just the right amount of starch to the plate.  The perfect bite is a forkful with a bit of everything on it: ribeye, ‘shroom, cream, veg, and potato.  All the right stuff for dinner, made just the right way.  ‘Nuff said.

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 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
EVOO
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.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Hamburger Steaks in Rich Mushroom Gravy with Simple Ranch Salad

My oh my.  What to make for dinner?  Sometimes, Lolita despairs.  Sometimes she just can’t think of another thing to make, another tasty thing to eat, another new meal to satisfy her continuous cravings for something simultaneously simpatico and nuevo .  She can’t even be bothered to order something, she’s so tired of being the only “feeder” in the family.  Sometimes she even relentlessly nags her husband to “come up with something on your own, damnit!” , with much foot-stomping, pouting, and black side-glancing, to the point of stupefying him into utter helpless incoherence – which never helps.  What can I say?  Lolita has that gift.

But tonight, thank Gastronomy, skeptical as I was when sullenly surveying the contents of the fridge, suddenly I simulated something I suspected would be both savory and satisfying.  (Blame the wine I’ve been drinking for the inordinate amount of alliteration in this intro.)  We had some hamburgers.  And some fresh mushrooms. And a head of lettuce with a half-full bottle of ranch dressing.  And something struck me.   Before I learned to eat– to really really eat – I enjoyed the suburban chain joints that populated my New Jersey youth.  How could I not?  They are the backbone of Americana.  And Golden Corral’s chopped steak in mushroom gravy, topped with prime pickin’s from their endless salad bar, was an early favorite.  Tonight, I recaptured the sensation using simple, fresh, honest, and not-laden-with-mass-produced-preservatives-reheated-in-steamers ingredients.  And it was better than I remembered…

Hamburger Steaks in Rich Mushroom Gravy with Simple Ranch Salad

2 8oz, 1/2″ thick hamburgers
1 lb sliced white onions
1/2 large red onion (or 1 medium red or white onion)
EVOO, garlic powder
1 shot concentrated demi-glace, like More Than Gourmet’s Demi-Glace Gold
2-3 cups beef stock
1 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 cup diced tiny tomatoes
buttermilk ranch dressing

This is a Weeknight Wondermeal because it is super simple, and doesn’t take a whole lot of time.  I start with a leftover onion – about 1/2 a large red one – which I thickly slice and saute for a moment or two in hot EVOO in my largest non-stick pan.

In go these beautiful au poivre spiced hamburgers from Whole Foods, and my mushrooms.  Any thick-packed burger would have done, but I would have been sure to pepper the hell out of them if they hadn’t been this particular product – just to add the zip and zest this dinner packed. I let sear them on medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until I see that a nice brown crust has formed on the bottom of each patty.

I don’t have the  capabilities to make my own demi-glace and store it properly (seriously – I have the world’s worst freezer), so I rely on this product to give me the rich punch of flavor only a truly concentrated roasted stock can provide.  Whenever I see it on sale, I go crazy.

Right before I flip the burgers, I add my beef stock and slide in my concentrated demi-glace.  I let the crusts moisten for a moment before I turn each hamburger steak over.  This way, I wet-seal what will become the outer layer of meat – which will be exposed to the circulating air for the rest of the cooking process.  This sort of trap-cooks each patty with the steam and liquid of the evaporating stock.  It’s a plan, really — sort of inspired by the steamed burgers at Firebrand Saints which have captured my attention.   I blend in the demi-glace gel, drop the heat setting to low, and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

This has been one of my ghetto-kitchen tricks for years.  I have these thin metal nesting bowls, which conduct heat really well – so when I need to melt a tablespoon of butter for dinner and I have something simmering on the stovetop, I jerry-rig myself a crude double-boiler by just setting my clean metal bowl onto the surface of my bubbling stew.  Don’t judge me.  It works.

When the butter is melted, I add my flour…

… and blend well, forming a rudimentary – but effective – roux.

Using tongs, I remove my perfectly steamed (160°) burgers to my plates, and add my roux to the pan, raising the temp to high to bowl down and thicken the gravy.

While my gravy thickens, I toss together the simplest of salads: shaved iceberg lettuce, sliced tiny tomatoes, and some buttermilk ranch dressing.  Yes – it’s Hidden Valley.  I did say this was a Weeknight Wondermeal, didn’t I?

These babies are plump and juicy and pink but fully cooked — bursting with the unctuous, rich, meaty flavors I wanted. Better than my idealized memories of Golden Corral, which have grown better with the years of culinary appreciation I’ve since cultivated.  And that’s what I was aiming for her.   A juicy red fork-tender chopped steak in gravy dinner — not dry, pebbly, sandy, crumbled over-cooked ground beef sodden with oil.  The toothsome mushrooms, hearty sauce, and melting beef was perfectly offset by the cold crisp, and creamy salad – where cool meats warm, and deliciousness is  born.