Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Steak with Mushroom-Wine Sauce

I love red meat, especially steak.  Luckily, I found some NY Strip steaks at a local farmers' market.  These were from a local herd of grass-fed beef -- wonderful!

Cooking a steak at home is relatively straightforward.  First, pick a good looking cut of meat with a bit of marbling.  This will help ensure that it is tender and juicy.  But even a lean cut of beef like London Broil or round steak will make a good meal if you don’t overcook the meat.  The greatest helper in cooking a good steak is a good meat thermometer.  You want to make sure that you cook your steak from rare to medium, depending on your preferences.  If you want a steak well done, I would suggest you just eat a piece of charcoal.  It tastes the same and it’s cheaper.

The internal temperature of the steak you are cooking should be 135° for rare up to 150° for medium.  Remember, make sure the tip of the thermometer is in the thickest part of the meat (and not touching a bone or a the pan) for the most accurate measurement.  Once it gets the level of doneness you want, take it out of the oven or off the heat and let it “rest” for five minutes.  During that time, the meat will actually continue to cook and get to the 140° for rare to 160° for medium.  Waiting the five minutes before you slice the steak will also help the meat retain its juices and present a much more appealing and tasty steak.

To ensure proper cooking temperature, you should remove the steak from the refrigerator at least one hour, preferably two hours, before you plan on cooking it so the steak is at room temperature.  Room temperature meat won’t kill you – this isn’t the 18th century.  Room temperature steak cooks more evenly.  You don’t run into the problem where the outside of the steak is burnt while the inside is still raw.

2 NY Strip bone-in steaks
1 lb Mushrooms, sliced
8 T Butter
1 c Red wine
1 Lemon
1 Clove garlic
1 T Worchester sauce
Kosher salt
Fresh, ground black pepper

1.  About an hour before preparing the steak, make your mushroom wine sauce.  Wash and slice a pound of mushrooms.  Place them in a skillet with a stick of butter – yes, a whole stick; this is a sauce – over medium-high heat.  Cook until most of the water has gone from the mushrooms but before they’ve begun to brown (a little browning is fine).

2.  Pour in the red wine (remember, never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink – I used a Merlot), the juice of half a lemon, one glove of garlic (smashed and diced), a tablespoon of Worchester sauce, and a few twists of the pepper mill.

3.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour.  This will reduce the liquid and make a sweet and savory sauce for your steaks.

4. About a half hour before you plan on cooking the steaks, season the steaks with salt and pepper on both sides.  If you salt the steak too early, it will lose too much water and become tough.  About ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt and several twists of the pepper mill per steak should suffice.  Using a meat tenderizer, well, ... tenderize both sides of the steak.  If you don’t have a meat tenderizer, use a fork.

5.  There are two ways to cook a steak.  The “Pittsburgh method” uses a cast iron skillet.  This is a particularly good method for thin steaks.  Place a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and turn the heat almost as high as it will go.  When the butter has melted, sear the steak for one to one-and-a-half minutes on both sides.  This will sear in the juices and create a very tender steak.  Turn the heat down to medium low and cook the steak for about two to three minutes a side, check the temperature, and repeat as necessary to reach the level of doneness you want.  This may take four to twelve minutes more, depending on the thickness of the steak and the doneness you want.

6.  The second way to cook a steak at home is to broil it.  Place a rack in the top position in the oven.  Spray a broiler pan with Pam to help keep the meat from sticking.  If you don’t have a broiler pan, don’t try this method.  The broiler will heat to 500° which will warp a cookie sheet; the steak will also cook poorly on a cookie sheet.  Broil on one side for five minutes and for three to four minutes on the other side (depending on the thickness of the steak and the doneness you want).

7.  Remember, take the steak off the heat or out of the oven just before it reaches the internal temperature you want.  Let the steak sit for five minutes.

8. Plate the steak and spoon generous portions of the mushroom-wine sauce over the steaks.

9.  A full-bodied red wine pairs best with this.  Not surprisingly, I had the Merlot that went into the mushroom-wine sauce.

I served this with Brabant potatoes.  These are surprisingly tasty given how straightforward they are to make.

Brabant potatoes

4 Baking potatoes
4 c Cooking oil (canola, peanut, whatever you like; do not use olive oil to deep fry because it can’t take the high temperatures)
Kosher salt

1.  Peel and clean the potatoes.

2.  Cut into cubes ¼ inch on a side.

3.  Place in a large pot of slightly salted water (salting the water makes the water boil at a higher temperature – it does not make the water boil sooner) for 4-5 minutes.

4.  Drain and pat dry the parboiled potatoes on paper towel.

5.  Deep fry in batches (depending on the size of your deep fryer) at 375°.  If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can cook them in a big pot on a stove, leaving several inches between the top of the oil and the lip of the pot.  Be very careful, especially if you’re using a gas stove.  If you put too many potatoes in the oil all at once, the oil could boil over and cause a fire.  If you’re cooking on top of the stove, you will need a thermometer to determine when the oil is hot enough.  If you don’t have a thermometer, after the oil has been heating for a few minutes and you can see little eddies swirling through the oil, wad up a small piece of bread (about ¼ on a side) and drop into the oil.  If it immediately pops up to the surface and starts cooking and bubbling, the oil is hot enough to cook.

6.  After the potatoes turn golden brown (about 5 minutes or so), remove from the oil with a slotted spoon or a strainer that has a handle, drain on paper towels, and salt.  If you’re going to season food, it’s best to do it right after it’s done cooking to ensure that the seasoning, in this case salt, gets drawn into the food.

7.  I made the potatoes just before I put the steak in the oven to broil.

Fresh Salmon in Foil

2 Fresh salmon fillets
2T Butter
2 Lemons
Assorted fresh vegetables
Fresh dill or dried dill weed
Kosher salt
Fresh, ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°

Poaching salmon in aluminum foil pockets is very easy and makes a wonderful presentation.

1. Wash two fresh salmon fillets and pat dry with paper towel.  I like to leave the skin on because it helps the fillets keep their shape and adds a bit more flavor to the salmon.  Make sure, however, that your salmon doesn’t smell “fishy.”  No fresh fish should every smell “fishy.”  If it does, take it back to where you bought it because it’s old.  Salmon should smell like salmon.

2. Place each salmon fillet on a large piece of aluminum foil.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Place a tablespoon of butter cut into little patties across the top of each fillet.  Place three sprigs of fresh dill or sprinkle with ½ to 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed (depending on how much dill you like).  Juice half a lemon on each piece of fish.  Cut the other half of the lemon into slices and arrange on top of the fish.

3.  When you buy your salmon, check out the fresh vegetables.  If there is a farmers’ market open, check out what they’ve got.  The salmon in the pictures is covered with half of a red bell pepper, sliced zucchini, and three or four green onions.  In the past, I’ve used fresh green beans, green peppers, summer squash, new potatoes – whatever was available and looked good.

4.  Wrap the aluminum foil around the fish and vegetables.  Roll the ends up twice.  Fold the top together two or three times to ensure that the whole aluminum foil pocket is sealed – remember, this is going to poach the salmon.

5.  Place on a cookie sheet on the middle rack in a 375° oven for 25-30 minutes.  Twenty-five minutes produces a very nice medium-rare fish.  If you like your salmon rare, cook it for a few minutes less.  Do not cook for longer than 30 minutes.  Cooking longer than that will make the fish tough and very unpleasant.

6.  Remove from the oven and let sit for a minute or two before you unwrap the foil.  Be careful – you have just steamed this fish and the steam will be hot.

7.  Plate the fish with the vegetables on top and on the sides.  The salmon will be pink and juicy – the benefit of poaching.  You can remove the skin before you plate it, but it’s very easy to slide the meat off the skin as you eat it with the vegetables and, leaving the skin on help the fillet maintain its shape on the plate (it’s been my experience that trying to take off the fillet in one piece ends in a disastrous mound of bits of salmon).

8.  The rich, sweet fatty flavor of the salmon is paired best with a light, dry wine.

Tomato Salad

I wanted something light and easy to go with the poached salmon, so I made a tomato salad.

2 Tomatoes
4 Green onions

1.  Cut the tomatoes into wedges.

2. Dice the green onions.

3. Toss in a bowl with a vinaigrette dressing.  You can use one out of a bottle or make your own.

Vinaigrette dressing

Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh, ground black pepper

1. Use the ratio of one part vinegar to three parts olive oil (this recipe assumes ¼ cup vinegar to ¾ cup olive oil).  You can use different types of vinegar like red wine, white wine, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, etc. depending on what flavor your want (I sometimes use half red wine vinegar and half lime juice).  Likewise, you can use virgin olive oil or, if you want a more fruity flavor, use extra virgin olive oil.  (Do not use corn oil.  I did that once.  We’ll not speak of that again.)

2.  Pour the vinegar into a mixing bowl.  Put a pinch of salt and pepper in the vinegar.

3.  Add either a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or a half teaspoon of mustard flour (ground mustard).  The mustard will help with the emulsification process but, unfortunately, many cooks forget to add this.

4.  Slowly pour the oil into the vinegar as you madly whisk the ingredients together.  If you don’t have a non-slip bowl or an extra pair of hands, place the bowl on a kitchen towel (this will help keep the bowl relatively steady – if the towel is a bit damp from you wiping your hands on it, it will work even better).

5.  After a few minutes the mixture will form a rich, opaque mixture that is notably thicker than the olive oil.  Whisk for a minute longer just to make sure the mixture is good and emulsified.

6.  Taste the mixture.  Depending on what taste you’re going for, you may have to add a teaspoon or so of sugar (Slenda works great if you’re watching your sugar intake).

7.  During the mixing process, you can add all kinds of flavoring ingredients like finely diced garlic or shallots, chopped basil leaves, or smoked paprika – there are many ideas on the internet.

8.  This is also a really good marinade for chicken.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

8-Ball Zucchini Recipe

The other day, one of my neighbors gave me an 8-ball zucchini.  It was about the size of a small cantaloupe.  I had no idea what to do with the thing, so, naturally, I went to Google.  Apparently, they’re called “8-ball” because they should be the size of a billiard ball.  However, many, like the one I was given, are much larger.  I searched a number of recipes before coming up with what I believe is a good combination of different elements.  If you really taste what you’re eating, noting the different permutations and combinations, you can taste the food in your head before you start to cook.  Then, as you put together the dish you can adjust some of the elements as you cook.  After I get everything together and let it cook for a while, I’m constantly tasting and adjusting.

Here’s my recipe for stuffed 8-ball zucchini.

1lb pork sausage
1 bell pepper, diced
1 Vidalia onion, diced
2T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped and rendered
1 15oz can Contadina tomato sauce
1 15oz can of sliced black olives
½ cup Pinot Noir
2T fresh basil, chopped or 1T dried basil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 cup Mozzarella cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
Kosher salt
½ cup dry brown rice

This will make enough stuffing for two 8-ball zucchini about the size of a small cantaloupe.

Preheat oven to 375°

In a cast iron skillet brown the Italian sausage over medium heat.  Cast iron skillets are naturally non-stick (if properly seasoned) and transmit consistent, even heat.  Recently, some have argued that you get an infinitesimal amount of iron from the skillet which is actually healthy for you.  If you can’t find bulk sausage, buy links and cut the ground meat out of the casings.  In another cast iron skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add one diced bell pepper (green or red work equally well) and one Vidalia onion.  After the onion becomes translucent (about five minutes), add the finely chopped garlic and continue cooking for two minutes.  Never press garlic – it makes it taste metallic.  After you peel a clove of garlic, smash it flat with the flat of the knife.  This makes it easier to chop, and you release all the lovely garlic oil. 

While the sausage and pepper/onions are cooking, dice four slices of bacon.  Put the bacon in a small cast iron skillet and render it over medium heat.  When the bacon has become crispy, remove it from the heat and drain on paper towels.

Drain the sausage of any fat and add it to the pepper/onion/garlic mélange.  Pour in the can of tomato sauce.  I’ve always liked Contadina because they produce a consistent, balanced product.  Other brands are too sweet or too metallic tasting.  Add the wine, the chopped basil, rendered bacon, and a few twists from the pepper mill.  Turn the heat down to medium low so the sauce reduces.  You don’t want a lot of liquid when you’re stuffing a zucchini. 

Put a half cup of brown rice in a pot with a cup of cold water (the rice-to-water ratio is always 1:2) and a tablespoon of butter.  Stir the rice so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  Turn the heat on high and bring to a boil.  Stir the rice again, cover the pot, and turn the heat to low.  The cold-water method of cooking rice produces a firmer rice than the hot-water method.  Plus, it’s always the same cook time.  No matter how much rice you’re cooking, white rice will be done in 20 minutes, and brown rice will be done in 25 minutes.  The butter helps keep the rice from clumping up and gives it a creamy taste.  After ten minutes, stir the rice; sometimes, you have to add a few tablespoons of water to brown rice if most of the water is gone by this point in the cooking cycle.  Also, after ten minutes, add the sliced black olives to the sauce.  If you put them in at the start, they could get mushy.

After about 20-25 minutes, check the rice.  You want the water boiled away with the rice al dente or even a little undercooked (because you’re going to continue to cook it in the zucchini). 

While the rice is cooking, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so of the zucchini.  Make sure the top is flat and not cut on an angle.  With a melon baller (or a teaspoon) remove the seeds (like you do when you’re getting a pumpkin ready to carve).  Put the zucchini in the microwave on high for three minutes to parboil it.

Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste (if it’s not garlicky enough, add some garlic powder).  Pour the sauce and rice into a large mixing bowl and stir together.  Then, add the Parmesan cheese and stir again.  Spoon the sausage-rice mixture into the zucchini.  Put the zucchini on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with Pam, non-stick spray.  I’ve got a friend who works for a company that uses ten-ton presses to make fiberglass molds.  They use Pam to make sure the molds don’t stick.  I figure, if Pam can prevent those molds from sticking, it will prevent anything from sticking.  Put the zucchini in the oven for ten minutes.  Take it out and mound up a cup of Mozzarella on the zucchini.  Put it back into the oven for another ten minutes until the Mozzarella has melted and formed a lovely brown crust over the entire zucchini.  This is why you want the zucchini to be flat on top – so you get an even melt (as you can see in the picture, I didn’t get this part right).

Wait about ten minutes to cut the zucchini to the let the steam subside.

I served this with a Rex Goliath Pinot Noir (the same wine I used in the sauce – remember, never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink).  Rex Goliath is a very inexpensive wine, but it’s a fine, drinkable table wine.

Fresh from the oven

Showing the filling


Like millions of other folks, I like to cook good food and drink fine beverages.  And, like about a million others, I've decided to inflict my recipes on unsuspecting Google searchers.  This should feed my narcissism for a while.  My other blog, Spatula, is about politics and higher eduction -- things that cheese me off.  This will be about things that make me happy like,.. well ... cheese.