Sunday, October 5, 2014

Steak au Poivre: Bring a defibrillator and let's party!

The way to a man's heart is with a steak smothered in cream sauce
(and a defibrillator!)
You'd be surprised by the amazing dishes you can make once you get the sauté down. This is a rich, decadent dish that's perfect for a date night when you want to impress someone. The best part is that they don't have to know how ridiculously easy it is.

Since this meat entree is so decadent, it pairs really well with steamed veggies and french bread. It should also be followed by a very light dessert. Unless, of course, you're on the Atkins diet, in which case you should wolf down this entire delicious meal by yourself.

Steak with a rich cream sauce? My arteries!!! I'm here to call bologna on all that nonsense. Have you seen the French? They live forever. And most of them smoke! I don't eat fried food, but the amount of heavy cream and rich butter (not olive oil) in my daily diet is enough to make even the most liberal of cardiologists squeamish. How's my cholesterol and triglycerides? Nearly perfect. Maybe it's just good genes, maybe it's that I don't like fried food. Either way, give me butter or give me death.

Traditionally, this dish is made with filet mignon but that's expensive and you'll break the bank trying to make it for a group of people. I use a very thickly cut New York Strip steak (also known as the "club steak", "porterhouse steak" or "Delmonico steak".) If you're looking at a T-bone steak, it's just on the other side from the filet mignon. You can get two servings from one steak and you have a little piece leftover that's delicious for a snack later. Whenever I use steak for any receipe, I always salt the meat about 24 hours before and then leave it in the refrigerator on a rack loosely covered. This allows the salt to absorb into the meat really well and also allows the surface to dry out. As Julia Child taught us, you can't sear wet meat. It won't caramelize and it splatters everywhere! If you don't have time to let it sit first, make sure to blot well with clean paper-towels immediately before putting into the hot pan. If you don't see one that's at least 1 1/2" thick, any grocery store outside of Walmart or Target will cut one for you on the spot. True story!

Sometimes I add mushrooms after removing the sautéed steak.

This dish is traditionally made with fresh cracked black pepper (that's the "au poivre" part), but I really like to kick it up a bit by using Montreal Steak Seasoning instead. (Hey immigration - Montreal is French too so please let me in to visit when I come back. Viva la France!) I usually just buy the brand in the store pre-mixed, but if you can't find it, you can make it by mixing the following ingredients:

Montreal Steak Seasoning:
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  • 1 tablespoon crushed coriander
  • 1 tablespoon dill
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Steak au Poivre

  • New York Strip Steak, at least 1 1/2" thick (1 steak serves two people)
  • Montreal Steak Seasoning (or lots of fresh cracked black pepper and some salt)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 pint mushrooms, quartered (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cognac, measured into a measuring glass
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish, optional)

  1. About 24 hours before you plan to make it, season the steaks with Montreal Steak Seasoning, loosely cover, and leave on a rack in the refrigerator.
    24 hours of soaking up the rub!
  2. If using the New York Strip steaks instead of filet mignon, trim off the fat from the edges. Cut the pointy piece off the end (but save it and cook it with the rest). Cut the remaining larger pieces in half to be about the size of filet mignon.
    Takes a whole 2 seconds to cut this bad boys up!
  3. Preheat a very heavy bottom stainless steel pan over medium-high heat until VERY hot. Add the butter, swirl around the pan and as soon as it's about half melted, add the steaks. (Don't use a non-stick pan unless you want to inhale noxious fumes and possibly kill your bird.)
    Don't  be sliding them around or pressing on them, just leave them alone :)

  4. Sear the steaks for about 4 minutes one one side without disturbing them, then flip them over and sear for another 4 minutes. (This should give you a medium steak, depending on how thick it is cut.)
    Makes me want to sing the French National Anthem!
  5. Remove the steak from the pan and cover the meat loosely with foil.
  6. If you're using mushrooms, add them to the pan and sear until deliciously cooked, then remove them from the pan. Otherwise, skip to the next step.
  7. Pour out any remaining melted butter from the pan, but try to keep all the little crispy bits leftover from the steak. That's an important part of the sauce!
  8. Put the pan on the stove and TURN OFF THE BURNER OR ANY BURNER NEAR IT. I cannot express to you how important this step is. I can personally testify that it takes about 6 months for your eyebrows and eyelashes to grow back, thanks to the first time I made bananas flambe.
  9. Pour the cognac into the pan, then step back to light it with a long lighter. Gently tilt the pan in multiple directions until the flame goes out. Stir to collect the brown bits from the bottom.
    From a measuring cup, NOT the bottle! The bottle is basically a bomb in your hand.
    There's gonna be a pretty big flame so make sure you're not wearing a synthetic wig!

  10. Turn the heat back onto medium-high and reduce the cognac until it is thick and almost syrup-like.
  11. Add the cream and stir occasionally. It will come up to a rolling boil but will eventually subside and then reduce to a thick, smooth gravy like sauce.
  12. Add the steaks and any accumulated juices into the sauce to warm them through.
    How you durrin?
  13. Turn the steaks over a few times to coat them with the sauce, then serve on a plate. Spoon extra sauce over the steaks. If you have fresh parsley on hand, it makes a nice garnish. Clearly, as you can see, I did not. :)

Stop oogling my steak and put your pants back on!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bourbon hot toddy

With more recipe variations than Lady Gaga has hair-dos, one thing we can all agree on is that nothing warms a cold winter night or comforts you from the flu like a hot toddy. It's got a slightly (ahem) higher alcohol content than Nyquil, but it actually tastes great. 

Make sure to use a good bourbon because you want a drink that that's warm and nutty, not like gasoline. Maker's Mark is a terrific mid-grade bourbon that's perfect for this recipe and the small single-serving sized bottles found behind the counter at the liquor store are perfect for 3 or 4 hot toddies.

Ingredients (Yields 1/2 coffee mug):

  • 4 tbsp bourbon
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tsp fresh squeezed lemon 
  • 1/2 cup boiling hot water
  1. Add all ingredients to a mug and stir.
  2. Curl up with a good book in front of the fire and sip until you fall asleep.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Vegetarian White Pasta

Simple and even more delicious the next day!

Increasingly, more of the wonderful people that have been introduced into my life are vegetarian. I could be vegetarian too, if it weren't for foie gras.... or beef.... or lobster... but catfish, I could definitely give up catfish. :)

In all seriousness though, it's important to have a variety of recipes that work for any group of friends. This recipe is delicious and filling and pleases both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The best part is that it's so easy, you can easy throw it together during your dinner party and people can add or omit ingredients as it suits them. The exact measurement for any of the ingredients isn't important.

If you have friends that aren't vegetarian, you could serve some sliced Italian sausage on the side for them to add to their pasta.

This particular recipe has the added benefit of tasting far better the second day. I make lots of it and have it for lunch for several days.

  • 1 lb box of pasta
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pint sliced mushrooms
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup white whine
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • grated zest of one lemon plus juice
  • 3 bags of baby spinach
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Add 1 round tablespoon of salt to a large pot on water and put on the stove to bring to a boil.
  2. Mix the heavy cream, ricotta cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper well, set aside. (This is important to prevent the ricotta from curdling by the lemon juice).
  3. While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat until very hot.
  4. Sear the mushrooms until softened. Remove from the pan.
  5. Reduce the heat and sear the onions until soft and slightly browned. Add the lemon juice and zest and cook until most liquid is evaporated.
  6. Add 1/2 cup white wine and cook until almost all evaporated.
  7. Add the nutmeg, dill weed, cayenne, salt and minced garlic and cook for no more than a minute, then remove from heat. Stir in the ricotta/cream mixture.
  8. As soon as the pasta is al dente, scoop out 1 cup of the water for use later, then drop all 3 bags of spinach into the pasta water for 30 seconds. Drain the pasta and spinach, then return to the pot.
  9. Add all remaining ingredients (except Parmesan) to pot and stir well. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes for the juices to be absorbed by the pasta. Add just enough of the reserved pasta water to get a creamy sauce, then stir in the 1 cup of Parmesan cheese. (Sometimes the spinach wants to clump together. The easiest way to separate it is to stir with a fork.)
  10. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese on top if desired.

Don't be tempted to throw it all in the pan at once like we did this time,
nothing will properly brown and there'll be a lot of liquid left over.

If you don't mix the cream with the ricotta separately,
the lemon juice will cause the ricotta to separate.

Simple and even more delicious the next day!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Braciole: The best Italian dish you've never had!

Braciole! Excuse the sloppy presentation, but in the interest
of authenticity, libations may have been a factor ;)
While everyone else was busy eating their tough, bland cuts of rump roast for Sunday dinner, those of us who grew up poor were dining on soft, tender succulent pot roast. Chuck is the most flavorful cut of beef, but it requires long, slow cooking. The Italians shorten the cooking time by slicing the chuck roast into strips, then pounding the heck out of them. They up the ante by smearing them with a paste rub (usually made of pine nuts, parsley, Parmesan cheese and garlic), then rolling them up, searing them, covering with tomato sauce and baking like little pot roasts. (In Italian, they call them "involtini", meaning little bundles. "Braciole" is an American-Italian word.)

This dish is something that an Italian family would put on the stove (or in the oven) to cook all day. They'd also throw meatballs or extra cuts of pork into it and the resulting meaty, tomato deliciousness would be served on pasta. It's not a fancy dish, it's a peasant dish. Who knew the peasants ate so well?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tender Beef Brisket

So tender, it's falling apart!

Nothing says Texas like a delicious smoked beef brisket. The problem is, so many have trouble getting it right. It often ends up between charcoal and beef jerky. Chances are, if you're reading this right now, that's why you're here.

Well I am here to tell you, my friends, you too can have mouth watering delicious beef brisket that'll make you never want to eat it from a restaurant again. I'm talking about the kind of beef brisket you could eat with a cheap plastic fork.

I come from a long line of serious BBQ smokers. We do not play. My family would wake up at 3am to begin building a fire. Now days, that's really just way too much work. There are simpler ways to get a delicious brisket.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to Make Yogurt (Regular, Greek and Frozen)

Yogurt with honey and grapes, my favorite! Notice that I didn't
even bother to drain off all the whey so my yogurt is a little
thin which is exactly how I like it.
I make yogurt once a week and I eat a bowl of it every day for breakfast. I love it. :) It helps my tummy work properly and I save a ton of money buy making it myself. It also allows me to avoid all the artificial flavors and sweeteners that are in them.

What I really love about homemade yogurt is the rich creamy texture. The yogurts sold in America (even the organic varieties) have starch or other thickeners that give them a pasty texture. It reminds me of eating glue which I gave up in the 3rd grade. Or by high school. I'm not telling. :) But the point is... I like it to be creamy and not chocked full of funky stuff I can't pronounce. Also, I like to have control over how tangy it is. If I'm using it with fruit or sprinkling powdered sugar or honey in it, I like it tangy. But if I'm going to make frozen yogurt out of it, I prefer it to be very bland so that it's a terrific neutral base. (Store bought yogurt is too tangy and pasty to make frozen yogurt out of.)

The best part is that it's so simple! The only special equipment you need is a thermometer and a heating pad that doesn't automatically cycle off. (I got mine at CVS drug store for $8.99.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chewy Cinnamon-roll Sugar cookies

Cinnamon-roll cookies, anyone?

"Judge not a cookie by how it tastes out of the oven, judge it by how it tastes the next day... or the day after that." - Me

These cookies have an amazing moist chewy texture that lasts for days. The best part is how simple they are - you don't even need a mixer. New Years Resolutions? Pffffft. It's been two weeks. That is sooooo old news. :P

This recipe was adapted from the America's Test Kitchen recipe for chewy sugar cookies. I've included both versions for you.

  • 11.25 oz all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp regular salt
  • 10 1/2 ounces white granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    For coating the cookies:
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon*
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (these cookies will over-brown on Silpat).
  3. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together well in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, place sugars in bowl and cut the cream cheese into small pieces and place on top of the sugar.
  5. Melt the butter in microwave and while still hot, pour over cream cheese. Whisk well to combine.
    Pouring in the hot butter (I didn't have enough white sugar,
    so I replaced part of it with brown this time, but the cookie
    texture is better with white.)
  6. Add the egg and whisk to combine.
  7. Add the oil, milk and vanilla extra and whisk to combine.
  8. Using a spatula or large spoon, fold in the flour until combined.
    Adding the flour
  9. Mix the 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  10. Scoop using a 2 tbsp cookie scoop (#40) or a tablespoon. Gently roll into a ball and then roll around in the sugar mixture to coat.
  11. Place on the trays until all cookies are rolled.
  12. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to gently flatten the cookies until just larger than the measure cup. (The measuring cup is 2" across which is why it's perfect for this. The cookies should be the perfect thickness when smashed this way.)
    Smash the cookies be just larger than the width of the cup
  13. Sprinkle the remaining rolling sugar evenly on top of the cookies (there should be only about 2 tsp leftover)
  14. Bake one tray at a time for 7 minutes, then rotate and bake for 4 minutes longer.
  15. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.
* There are all kinds of things you can do with this. Instead of cinnamon, you could use orange, lemon zest or even use vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar. (To make vanilla sugar, just scrape the insides of a vanilla bean into the sugar, keep in a tightly sealed container for 24 to 48 hours for the vanilla to permeate the sugar.)