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.

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

Lobster.  I just can’t get enough of it.  And, while it’s only $3.99 at Al’s Seafood in North Hampton, NH, I can get as much as I like!  Heck – it’s cheaper than chicken breast right now.  Of course, we’re talking new shell lobsters, which don’t pack as much meat as their less-freshly moulted brethren, but even at $4.99 for the hard-shell babies we’re talking great prices.  Clayton’s been working on a friend’s landscaping up by the beach for the last couple weeks, and after finishing up yesterday he brought home 2 one-pounders for me to have my way with.  And have my way I did: I got those babies drunk on whiskey and cream, and I served them up in their own shells, along with some teenie tiny roasted potatoes, grown by the man himself in our little backyard raised bed, and a frisee salad doused with warm bacon dressing.  Dublin Lawyer is apparently the name of this preparation, and I have Maggie Cubbler at  The Loaded Kitchen to thank for showing me this little lovely.  Much appreciation, dear woman – because this was DELICIOUS!

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

2 1-1/2lb lobsters, steamed
2 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whiskey
1 cup cream (this is half & half, but heavy would work very well)
20 or so small potatoes
1 tbs dried chives
2-3 slices bacon
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 small head frisee
3-4 tbs crumbled, good quality bleu cheese
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped fresh chives

These are second generation potatoes, grown from sprouts picked off of potatoes bought at the store but never eaten.  Although the skins are a little tougher than your store bought spuds, the miniature-ness of these home-grown babies is charming.  I scrubbed them very well before dousing them in EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, and dried chives, wrapping them in foil, and chucking them on Little Red for 30-40 minutes to roast through.

Meanwhile, I twist the arms off both my lobsters, then, using my sharp chef’s knife and some kitchen shears, I split ’em up the middle of the underbelly before flipping them over and cutting through the outer tail shell and carapace, essentially separating the exoskeleton from the meat and innards.

After removing the tail meat and setting it aside, I carefully pull the cephalothorax and abdomen out as well, to free the carapace.  I now have four shell vessels from each bug.

These I wash out and pat dry, reserving them for service later.  The tail meat I chop up after removing the tomalley, and mix it with the meat from the knuckles and claws.

I get a couple thick, beautiful rashers of bacon cooked off in a small pan.

Using a couple tablespoons of the bacon fat, I add 1/2 my minced garlic, my cup of red wine vinegar, and my honey to the pan, which I bring to a roiling boil.  I add my bacon, which I’ve chopped up, back to the pan, along with 1/2 of my fresh snipped chives.  I let this boil down and, voila! warm bacon dressing.

Right before service, I dump the hot dressing over my washed and dried curly endive, which will wilt slightly in it’s bath.  This gets set aside for a few moments, while I bring the rest of dinner together.

I carefully set up my lobster shells; they will act as the vessels by which this gastronomic pleasure is served.

I bring my butter to foaming in a medium, non-stick pan and add the rest of my minced garlic to sweat and sweeten for a moment or two.

Next I add my whiskey.  Tilting the pan away from my face, hair, and eyebrows, and away from anything flammable…

…I ignite the contents of the pan and allow all the alcohol to burn off, which extinguishes the flames.  I love doing this – it’s super-sexy.

Finally, I add my cream.  I bring everything to a healthy boil, which thickens the sauce…

…before tossing in my lobster to heat through.  Since my lobsters were already steamed, I didn’t want to over-cook the meat; if they had only been par-boiled (partially cooked), I would have thrown in the lobster sooner.  But over-cooked lobster is tough and chewy – not at all what these scarlet bugs deserved.

Gently simmered, succulent lobster meat swims in whiskey-soaked garlic-butter cream, and is dressed with snipped fresh chives.  Tender tiny EVOO roasted potatoes help sop up the goodness, and a sharp/sweet/smokey salad of wilted frisee, bacon, and bleu cheese complements the richness on the plate.  My only criticism?  NOT ENOUGH!  Next time, I’m using some 2 pounders, and only serving in half the shell.   As it was, each bite transported me to a magical, halcyon, seaside resort, and when I’d picked all the meat out of the shells I picked them up and poured the sweetsavory cream out of them right down my gullet.  Elegant, but simple.  If this is what Irish barristers enjoy for their dinners, then they’ve got it mighty good.

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!

Roasted Short Rib, Sprouts and Roots Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

I hope, dear reader, that sometimes the meal you make makes you cry.  Cry for joy, that is — for weeping in ecstasy is truly one of life’s purest pleasures.  Lucky for me (not to toot my own horn or anything), but this happens for me often – and I cook because I’m addicted to the sensation.  Tonight’s meal plucked my heart-strings in an extra-special way, and now, an hour later, I’m still all verklempt.  The sumptuous flavors and soul-soothing textures are still imprinted on my tongue, still indelibly etched into my being, and my heart beats more happily now that it’s been fed by this rich feast.  This is the kind of warmth normally found only when laying in the arms of a lover on a cold, crisp night; a brand of almost spiritual fulfillment usually reserved strictly for religious experiences; a type of gastronomic indulgence rarely found outside of chi-chi celebrity chef’s kitchens that charge shocking prices after interminable waits-for-tables.  I admit — I was inspired by the Porchetta plate at Kendall Square’s newest hottest  gastro-joint, Firebrand Saints, a hopping establishment with a sexy menu, sexy staff, and good prices.  Their home-roasted porchetta over polenta with wilted greens was a great dinner;  but I admit I feel like I one-upped them here.   Polenta can be a flavor suck, whereas grits are a flavor enhancer (‘cuz they’re less gluteny…), and a concentrated gravy of braising liquids and browned beef adds that much more.  Yet this meal is something I can see being made out on the open range, by cowboys with some roots and hearty sprouts in their packs, a cast iron skillet over a campfire, and some of the last cuts of meat to tenderize with a slow and steady braise.  Honest, homey, and perfect — see for yourself!

Roasted Short Rib, Roots, and Sprouts Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

2 lbs bone-in short ribs
10-16 tiny wee potatoes
10-12 medium Brussels sprouts, larger ones split in half
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ discs
2 medium white onions, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
sea salt, cracked black pepper, truffle salt, vegetable oil
12 oz dark beer
4 cups beef stock
1/2 cup grits
2 cups water
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

I headed out on Black Friday with a mind to blow some dough.  Alas, I was mostly disappointed.  Newbury Street was all “15% off your 4th item” and stuff – not the type of discounts I wanted.  But I did find these adorable little cast iron skillets at Marshall’s (#thuglife) for a pittance, and I sort of cobbled my meal together with them in mind.  After curing them fully this afternoon, before I got truly started with tonight’s meal I threw them back in my 350° oven to reheat back through thoroughly.  They’ll come into play in about 30 minutes.

These beautiful beef short-ribs are from my new bestest friend, Blood Farms.  (Holla out to Lucy+ Chris + Andrew! Friends I incessantly urged to take the drive to West Groton to visit said Blood Farm after they waxed philosophic about their tasty bits of slab bacon in my Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts.)  These boney beefy hunks of meat were purchased a few weeks ago and frozen in my sad, crappy freezer, but which were happily defrosted this afternoon in preparation of tonight’s meal.  I rinse them, pat them very dry, then bondage them like the naughty cow parts they are (um… to hold the bones in while braising.)

I’ve moved my skillets from my hot oven to my hot range, and I’ve added a douse of vegetable oil to them to heat ’til just smoking. I’ve dressed my bones in salt and pepper, and I place them, bone side up, into the sizzling frying fat.  They sear 5 minutes on this side.  Using tongs, I flip them so that each other edge sears for at least 2 minutes, until every surface has been kissed with brown.

I add equal amounts of garlic cloves,  carrot, onion to each pan.  Then I toss all this very well to coat with fat and sear with heat.

This is my new daily beer: Session Premium Black Lager.  It’s got the whole cool crisp lager thing going, with a nice malty full bodied richness characterized by the “black” eponym.  It goes great with beef.  6 oz goes steaming into each pan…

I let all that loveliness froth and roil for a few seconds, before throwing the pans into my still 350°hot  oven.  And I wait.  For an hour.

After which time, my meat has begun to tighten on to the bone (the tough stage before the tenderness sets in), and almost all my beer has boiled down to a nice thick glaze.  Nice.  Thick.  Glaze.  But it needs more time, so I decide to meaten it up…

… by adding a couple cups of beef broth to each pan, too.  Back in the oven they go, for another 30 minutes.

The last 30 minutes will turn the starting-to-fray-with-forks-but-still-tough-at-the-bone meat into succulent shreds of deliciousness.  Those 30 minutes will also finish off the wee potatoes, sprouts, and the rest of the onion.  I toss these beauties with the liquid left in the pan (it’s OK to add more beef broth if it’s too dry; the pan should be about 1/2way full of juice), then toss the pans back into the hot oven.

The final ingredient is the grits – a starchy alternative to a soppin’ biscuit, and my preference to polenta when wanting something corny on my plate. 2 cup water, 1/2 cup grits, simmered until tender.

I add my two tbs  butter and my grated cheese to the pot when the grits are just about ready.  Then I add a generous amount of truffle infused sea salt — to add flavor and savor.  Removing the lid and heat source will thicken ’em up.

The beauty of a skillet is that you serve right in it.  I sort of push my lovely caramelized veggies to one side and pour my cheesy truffled grits into the chasm that remains.  They ooze like lava under the tenderific meat bones, the bursting potato pods, the crisp-edged, silky innard sprouts, the sweet carrots and the melting onions.  The smooth corn goodness offsets the deep tones of meat and garden-fresh roasted flavor. With each bite, I ascend to some transcendental place where perfection dwells on the tines of a fork, while the dark deep smoldering heat of the iron underneath anchors me to terra firma, where lust lurks on the tongue.  I challenge you, dear readers, to dive into this delight.  A few easy ingredients, a  few tantalizing hours of house aromas, and you too can experience Nirvana by merely plucking the fruits of your fork.

Pork Chops and Pommes Pommes

Clayton summed up this meal best when he said, “Sometimes I wish I had a retractable jaw, so that I could scrape every last atom of this pork chop off the bone with my teeth…”  So do I, dear husband, so do I.  This is meal #2 from the veritable Blood Farm in West Groton, Mass; pork chops freshly divorced from their porcine whole.  Saturday night’s filet mignon was the best steak I’ve ever eaten; tonight’s pork chops were my encore experience in ultimate protein consumption.  This is when the quality and freshness of the meat shows its importance on the plate: seasoned only with a little salt and pepper and simply pan-seared in its own drippings, floating on a rich puddle of cider sauce, coupled with domino apples and potatoes, stippled with cider-simmered-sweetened warm onion relish.  This is a company meal. Word.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Potato Bake over Rich Apple Gravy

2 8oz bone-in pork chops
1 Empire apple (or any other red delicious apple)
2 apple-sized potatoes: 1 red, 1 russet
3 oz duck fat (or clarified butter, or plain ol’ butter – if you’re not fussy)
1 medium white onion
2 cups fresh apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbs butter
1 tsp flour
4 sprigs rosemary
sea salt, black pepper

The French word for apple is pommes; the French term for potato is pommes de la terre, or “apple of the earth”.  I was inspired by this thoroughly apt linguistic convention, made manifest when looking at the thickness of the skin and the color of the flesh of both spud and apple, which are virtually indistinguishable by sight only – and by Erin Schubert’s recent post on her lovely blog a new bloom (Danke!).  I’d already mastered the domino potato, but interspersing my slender spud slices with slender apple slices was like a thunderbolt of wanticipation! I just *had* to try this recipe.  So, with my mandoline set at 1.3 (centimeters thick? I really should know what that setting means…), I make my potatoes and apples into card stacks.

I roasted a duck a few weeks back (and no, I didn’t blog this one — every once in a while me n’ the husband want to have a private dinner, y’know?), which yielded me 6 oz of perfect duck fat I’ve been dying to use.  Tonight was the night.

I brushed 2 6oz ramekins with the fat, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.

Slice o’ apple, slice o’ white spud, slice o’ red spud, slice o’ white spud, slice o’ apple… and so on.  My pommes pommes are a domino stack of alternating potato and apple slices, brushed with duck fat (on top and liberally in-between), heartily sprinkled with salt and pepper, and wrapped with a rosemary sprig.  I set these ramekins into a 400° oven to roast for about an hour.

In my small saucepan, I heat a teaspoon of duck fat and sweat my finely diced onion with salt and pepper.

I add my apple cider, my chicken stock, and a sprig of rosemary to the pan, then set this mix to boil until reduced to a mere cup – for also about an hour.

When I’ve got about 20 minutes left, I start on my chops.  Since I’m sampling this super-fresh pork just purchased the other day at Blood Farm (see my last post for more details about this slaughterhouse heaven), I didn’t want to adulterate it with too many spices.  A sprinkling of salt and pepper, and I add them directly to my non-stick skillet along with another teaspoon of hot duck fat.  Just like I did Blood’s tenderloin, I flipped these every minute, searing them for a total of 15 minutes.

The thick band of fat along the edge shrinks a little and causes my chop to curl up a bit.  When this has happened with inferior meat, it often means I get dry, tough meat. But not this time.  Oh no, mon frere, these slabs of pig are so fresh, so good, that they end up being perfectly juicy and tender…

… whereas the fat slab crisps up like cracklin’.  My apple/stock has reduced to a concentrated nectar, so I add my flour blended with my softened butter at the last few moments of simmering to thicken it slightly.  Then I strain the gravy directly onto the plate, on which I lay my porcine steak.

The apple-sweetened onions I add to the pan with the pork’s drippings, and I sauté them quickly to thicken the glaze.

My pommes pommes  are perfectly roasted – the edges are crisp and the apple slices within are baked to softness while the potato is easily pierced with the tines of my curious fork.

My mother never made pork chops and applesauce, so I never really understood the appeal.  Now I do.  This plate just smacks of autumn.  Pigs that have fed well since the spring are ready to grace us with their delicious meat; both the apples from the branch and the apples from the ground are ready for harvest, and the rosemary bushes are fully formed and ready for overwintering indoors.  Together on the plate, these simple ingredients come together in a symphony of sumptuous scrumptiousness.  Sweet and savory, tart and tasty, crispy and creamy, meaty and rich – a fall feast fit for a king!