Kona Encrusted Steak, Brown Sugar Kona Mushroom Gravy, Arugula, Caprese, and Red Onion Salad

DSCN4870One would think, given that this blog is about what I eat, that I’ve been STARVING lately, since I haven’t posted anything in weeks.  Alas, it’s graduation season here in Boston, which kicked in right after the Marathon Bombings and the subsequent city-wide lockdown to capture Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  So “getting back to normal” required getting over the shock of terrorists hiding in backyard boats and getting past processions of dignitaries and fresh graduates to the glorious month of June.  Of course, I haven’t been starving, but I’ve not cooked as much as I usually do because of all the crazy crazy, nor have I had the time to post.  But all that’s over, and I’m back in the saddle, and happy to offer you – dear readers – a dinner truly worth this call back to action.  This is dedicated to my dear friend, Leslie, for whom I first prepared this meal and from whom the main ingredients came straight from Hawaii — to whence she has now returned to attend medical school.  I miss you, sweetie!

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Kona Encrusted Steak, Brown Sugar Kona Mushroom Gravy, Arugula, Caprese, and Red Onion Salad

2 8oz strip or ribeye steaks
2 tbs ground kona coffee
2 cups fresh brewed kona coffee
1 lb baby bella mushrooms
1 qt beef broth
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs flour
2 tbs butter
1 boll burrata cheese
1 fresh tomato
fresh argula
scallions
1 red onion
EVOO, white vinegar, pink Alaea sea salt, crushed black pepper

DSCN4854I start with my gravy, which takes the longest to make on this dish.  Half of my red onion is diced and added to a little butter, salt, and pepper in my large skillet, and set to simmer.

DSCN4855Mushrooms weren’t part of the original recipe, but I thought they would absorb the coffee gravy nicely, and I wasn’t wrong.  I slice up these baby bellas nice and thick.

DSCN4856Into the pan they go, where I toss them with the hot fat and onion, then let them start to melt a bit.

DSCN4857Clayton and I don’t have a coffee machine; we use this funnel thing, and it works just fine.  I add  healthy two tablespoons of grounds to the filter to make a really strong coffee.

DSCN4858I set the brown sugar into the glass ahead of time.  John Stage from the Dinosaur BBQ taught me how to make coffee – by adding the hot liquid to the sugar and not the other way ’round – and I’ve never gone back.

DSCN4860Time for the steak!  I rub these babies down with black pepper, ground coffee, and some of the pink salt, then set them aside to absorb all the flavors.

DSCN4861At this point, I add my coffee and beef broth to the mushrooms in the pan, and bring it to a roiling boil to reduce all the liquids.

DSCN4862To help the sauce thicken, I whisk about 1/4 cup of the coffee/broth liquid with my tablespoon of flour to create a slurry….

DSCN4863…. which I then add to my pan…

DSCN4864… before lowering the heat to simmer, and reducing the gravy until it is thick, rich, and delicious.

DSCN4865As the gravy finishes off (see how reduced it is on the back burner there?), I cook off my steaks.  Using the flip-once-a-minute technique, I sear each steak on alternating sides, until about 10 minutes have passed.  This makes a perfect medium rare.

DSCN4868After whipping up a quick salad with arugula, tomato, burrata cheese, and slivered red onions, I serve my encrusted seared steak bathed in black Hawaiian coffee goodness.  Each succulent, tender bite transports me to volcanic sand beaches, white-capped surfboarded waves, phalanxes of exotic women gyrating their hips accompanied by burly men beating large drums, and to romantic vistas peopled by the cast of Hawaii Five O. A word to the wise: don’t plan on taking any naps shortly after eating this meal; I was WIRED for HOURS post-consumption as all the kona-caffeine coursed through my veins.  But that just gave me more time to savor all the amazing flavors this plate provided, for which I was incredibly grateful.  Next time, though, I’m thinking this steak will be served with eggs and toast for breakfast…

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.

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: 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.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Rustic Lamb Steak Skillets with Tomatoes, Brussels, Potatoes, and Burrata

O.M.F.G.

Seriously.

Seldom do I find the Twitter generation’s vernacular useful, but tonight is one of those occasions where the treasure trove of Lolita’s vocabulary only detracts from the unpretentious pleasure of roasted meat and vegetables in a cast iron skillet.  Wait – that was pretentious, wasn’t it?  Let me rephrase: holy shit – my dinner was delicious!  1″ thick lamb shoulder chops, with tomatoes, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, guest starring pepperoni and burrata cheese, all nestled in an iron bathtub and roasted to smokin’ hot in the oven until bursting, juicy, tender, and robust.  So freakin’ good — so freakin’ easy to make.

Rustic Lamb Steak Skillets with Tomatoes, Brussels, Potatoes, and Burrata

2 1″ thick lamb shoulder steaks
8 tiny wee potatoes
8-10 Brussels sprouts
6 baby tomatoes on the vine, split into clusters of 3
16-20 slices pepperoni
1 boll burrata cheese
EVOO
sea salt, cracked black pepper

These 8″ cast iron skillets were the only bounty Black Friday yielded, but they’ve already proven themselves worth their weight in gold (metaphorically speaking; because they are wrist-breakingly heavy).  I’ve heated them for 20 or so minutes (about as long as it took for me to stage my set-up shot above) in a 400° oven before setting them on my hot stove-top with a shot of EVOO in each.

This is a Weeknight Wondermeal, which means it is easy easy easy.  Here are the few steps I followed to make this deliciousness happen: I rinsed, patted dry, salted and peppered my steaks, and set them along the edge of their respective pans.  I’ve trimmed and halved my sprouts, which I set cut-side down on the hot surfaces to sear, and I’ve skinned only the middles of my tiny wee potatoes and have nestled them within.  The sprouts immediately start to sizzle.

I layer my slices of pepperoni over the sprouts and spuds, then throw the pans in my hot oven to roast for 15 minutes.

After said 15 minutes, I pull out the pans, flip the steaks, move my spuds to one side, my sprouts and pepperoni to the other, and snuggle my tomato stems in between.  I douse them (and everything else – ‘cept the lamb) with EVOO, and throw it back in the hot oven for 10 minutes.

After said 10 minutes,  my tomatoes have split, my potatoes are tender, my sprouts have caramelized faces, firm middles, and crisp edged wilted humps.  My steaks are cooked through and juicy, so I halve my boll of burrata — modern cheesemakers most perfect homage to cow’s milk — and place one in the middle of each pan, topped with another slice of pepperoni.  Back in the oven my skillets go, but I crank the heat up to broil for the final 5 minutes to finish.

Gamey lamb steaks sizzling in their own melted fat juices, coupled with the savory liquid balance only roasting tomatoes bring, flavored with spicy pepperoni and herbaceous iron-seared miniature cabbage halves, and studded with russet potato thumbs.  A cracked egg of curded and stretched cow cream blends with the various drippings, forming a gravy that is pink and milky, meaty, starchy, and vegetable-y, and which spears a sumptuous feast on the each tine of every fork.  And I didn’t even stop at the grocery store this evening — everything was in my fridge.  Veggies from the farm stand, lamb from Blood Farms, burrata, pepperoni and potatoes from Trader Joe’s: all in all, $20 worth of ingredients.  But the experience of diving into this cauldron of comely comestibles?  Priceless!

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.