Pepper Steak

2 03 2009

Every Valentine’s day the local butcher shop has beef tenderloin on sale.  And every time we get tenderloin we make a roast (this roast) because, well, it’s really good.  I tend to stick with winners when dealing with expensive cuts of meat.  As a result I’d never made a filet steak and now I had a perfect opportunity.  You see, I was planning a surprise dinner for Karen.  One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re planning a surprise dinner and they might come home late, a roast is a bad idea.  If you think that special someone is coming home at 6:30 and she comes home at 8:00 then you’re stuck with a really overdone roast.  But steaks cook quickly.  Steaks can be prepared while they watch, preferably after the kids go to bed.

Most of my culinary knowledge comes courtesy of Alton Brown.  And it is on his show that I was first introduced to Steak au Poivre.  (Here’s the recipe)  It’s got just a few ingredients.

Pepper, cream, and brandy works for me

Step one is to season the meat all over with salt.  Then crush the black peppercorns and press them into the meat, covering both sides.  Then cook the steaks.

No I didn't set off the smoke detector

When the steaks are done take them out and let them rest.  Then pour in some brandy and let the alcohol cook off.   Now I’ve read elsewhere (like Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook) that to make the sauce you need veal stock and demi-glace, but Alton just adds heavy cream and that’s good enough for me.  Let it reduce until it coats the back of a spoon.  You’re done.

It's almost done here, but not quite

Now I looked for more interesting things to serve it with than merely potatoes, but I haven’t seen many who mess with tradition.  Who am I to disagree?  I served mashed potatoes and a green salad that, I’ll admit, I asked Karen to make.  But I made 2/3 of dinner.

Nice dinner, yes? Only if the kids are asleep.

I did, however, overcook the steaks.  They were medium well to well, just a tiny bit of pink in the middle.  Too bad.  I’d rather they moo in pain when I cut into them.


10 01 2009

I’m no chef, and that’s probably why you should never take my cooking advice.  But it seems as though you need to have a good reputation to garner any respect around the dinner table.  Let me explain. 

One of my favorite shows it Top Chef, and season 5 is currently showing.  And one of my favorites this year just got voted off.  His name is Eugene, and he was born in Hawaii and trained in kitchens in California, but never went to culinary school.  He started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up to being head chef in a restaurant.  To me, he’s already beaten the odds.  But this past week he made a dish that had everyone scratching their heads.  He used daikon, which is a Japanese root kind of like a radish.  He used a vegetable peeler to make thin strips of daikon and then cooking them like fettuccine and serving them with a tomato and basil sauce.  EVERYONE HATED IT.  I believe the sentiment was “What was he thinking?” by both the chef-contestants and the judges.  They made it sound like the worst food idea ever.  

But here’s the thing.  When I saw him introduce this dish I recognized it.  I saw it in the cookbook by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (the most awesome chef in the world).  

It's my life's goal to eat at his restaurant.

I also saw him demonstrate the dish on Emeril Live.  Here’s a link to the recipe from Emeril’s show.  Here’s a video of the same demo on Martha Stewart’s show.

So here’s the question. Does Morimoto have enough authority that everyone gave him the benefit of the doubt, but Eugene doesn’t rate as much?  Or was everyone thinking “The old man’s gone crazy!” when his book came out?  Or didn’t they hear about this at all? 

Whatever.  I’m making this dish in the very near future to see if it is really that terrible of an idea.  I’ll keep you posted.

Making the new year happy

4 01 2009

“This is the worst Christmas vacation ever!”  said Isaac on Friday evening before bed.  And he was right.  Starting Christmas day, somebody in the family was sick every day, and for a few days it was three out of the four children.  And when that happens nothing gets done.  The dishes don’t get washed, the floor doesn’t get mopped, the boxes don’t get recycled, and the blog doesn’t get updated.  But here, on the eve of their return to school, Daddy made up for all that by making a grand dessert.  

No, we didn't save any for you.  Sorry.

Karen started things off with the perfect dinner, as usual.  Then I got to make the dessert from a cookbook received as a present from my now-favorite sister in law.  It’s by George Duran, the “Ham on the Street” guy, and he calls it Chocolate Soup.  I can see already that I’ll get a lot of use out of this one.  When describing this dish George says “I love soup.  I love chocolate.”  And yeah, it was good.

But really, is it possible to mess up a recipe with this many ingredients?  

Don't make fun of my brittle vanilla bean

Probably, but this was good.  It wasn’t silky smooth or divine or anything, but it got rave reviews around the table.  It was like eating really good hot chocolate with a spoon from a bowl.  You know, like fancy people do.  So thanks to Aliyah, I promise we’ll make this the next time you visit.

See? It wasn’t my fault.

14 12 2008

Okay, so maybe it was.  I don’t know, but when I made this recipe from Giada for zeppole (I posted about it here) it was a disaster.  Then I saw her make zeppole on a different episode of Everyday Italian, and this time she used half the water as before.  Hmmm…..  I smell something fishy.  I told Karen that I had to make it.


So first of all, here’s the recipe.  

Now, this time I was so sure it would be perfect that I had the boys to help me.  They’re always good for a blog post.  Jonathan helped me with the batter.

Jonathan made the batter

And Isaac stirred the bittersweet chocolate chips and warm heavy cream together to make the ganache.  

Isaac made the ganache.  Did I do anything?

But then he got a better idea.

This part isn't in the recipe.

Nate watched all this transpire from the safety of his swing.

Just gimme some of that chocolate stuff.  That's all I'm asking.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and here’s how the batter looked just after I added the eggs.

What kind of peaks are these?

A HUGE improvement from last time.  They were not so runny this time.  I was relieved and set to work cooking them.  Except one thing.  Giada used a mini ice cream scooper to dispense the batter into the oil.  We don’t have one.  So mine were still ugly.

They even skipped across the water.

Karen decided she could do a better job, and she did.  It’s apparently all in the wrist.  Or something like that, she could do it and I couldn’t.

Orangey goodness with sugar on top

So they came out well.  Maybe it was the different recipe, maybe it was the fact that I didn’t do much.  It doesn’t matter to me; they were good.  I keep thinking about Top Chef and how nobody can make a decent dessert.  Why doesn’t anyone make these?

“You can’t mess it up” isn’t a challenge.

31 10 2008

It’s been a while since I really messed up something in the kitchen.  I was getting overconfident I suppose, so when I saw this recipe for zeppole I knew I could do it.  

Zeppole are little Italian donuts that look like donut holes, and they looked great.  What’s better, they looked easy.  Giada made the batter – start to finish – in front of the camera so I knew I could do it.  She actually said “It’s one of the simplest doughs to make and you can’t really mess it up.”  Yeah, they said the Titanic was unsinkable too.

Most of the comments online talked about how easy it was to make.  You add some stuff to the pot, bring it to a boil, add flour, and stir.  Except mine never really firmed up.  It thickened a little, but that’s it.  I added some more flour, but that didn’t work either.  When I took it off the heat and added the eggs it looked like pancake batter.

This is not really something you can drop into oil with an ice cream scoop.  In the end we decided to try making them funnel-cake style.  They had some very interesting shapes.

I wouldn’t say they were good.  But if you add a cinnamon and sugar topping to just about anything it will taste good.  I suppose there’s a very important fundamental concept that I’m missing, so I’m going to try these again.  I’m sure that post will be just as entertaining.

Finding my culinary roots

24 03 2008

yes I’m blogging about British food

There’s lots of Gordon Ramsay on TV these days, and that’s good. He’s good television. You have to respect a man who can swear like that on national television while standing next to his mother. And his British shows that I get on BBC America are way better than the American ones produced by Fox.

Anyway, watching Gordon Ramsay makes me want to eat simple, honest, British cooking so that means that when Karen came home from the store one day with a two pound beef roast I instantly thought of Yorkshire pudding. But guess who didn’t include a recipe for it in his cookbook Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Heaven? Thanks for nothing, Ramsay. So then I try my trusty friend Google and it takes me to this site, where I find Gordon’s recipe for roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. Way cool, let’s go.

Now, I’m sure I will be laughed at by people who know. Blogging about how excited I was to try Yorkshire pudding. Go ahead, it gets even better if you keep on reading.

So you mix the batter together and let it rest, then mix it again. It smells a lot like pancake batter. You put some oil in the cups of a muffin tin and put it in the oven to get hot. When it’s hot you take out the tin and pour in the batter.

They started frying immediately

Stick it back in the oven and cook until risen and golden brown and crispy.

starting to be too many pictures

Take it out and let it cool a little bit before getting them out of the pan. Wait, why are they so stuck? I got out a spoon and had to dig them out, and when I was done the pan looked like this:

I may have left them in a hair too long.

But they tasted okay. Yes, I burned them a little, but what do you expect? They tasted WAY better than the beef. I had put it in the crock pot early in the morning and Karen came home from work pretty late, so it was in there for about 11 hours or so.  How to turn beef into a brillo pad.  When it started I put in one cup of water, and when it was done I got out 3 cups of gravy. If a pint is a pound the world around that means that my beef roast lost a pound of water weight while it was in the slow cooker. That ain’t good eats.

The gravy was excellent.  For leftovers we just had gravy.

You know you watch too much Food Network when…

13 01 2008

Two moments in time:

At the local butcher shop a 7-year-old Isaac is seen, face pressed to the glass of the seafood display, uttering “Wow! Look at the salmon!”

And one morning, I’m getting everyone ready for the day. Molto Mario comes on the TV and 4-year-old Jonathan says “Look! It’s Mario Batali!”

Apparently Isaac has expensive taste in fish. And I have no idea how Jonny learned to recognize Mario by sight.  We never say  his last name in our house, he’s just Mario.

In praise of soup

5 12 2007

This is what Pennsylvania looks like this week:

global warming is a good thing

That’s Fahrenheit folks, not Celsius. So what’s the cure for all this cold and snow? A plane ticket to Trinidad? Probably, but soup is cheaper.

good soup yum yum

There is nothing on earth that warms you up like soup, so to all you prospective visitors from the Caribbean be warned. I’m a soup nut.

Luckily Karen had suggested Italian wedding soup this past weekend and we had all the ingredients on hand. That way I didn’t have to leave the house and go to the store. Lots of accidents out there. In the past we’ve built a Frankenstein soup using these two recipes:

Wedding soup from Food Network Kitchens
Wedding soup from Giada

This time I used Giada’s recipe straight up. Except for one thing. She said to grate the onion. Onions are wet and slippery and I like my fingers thank you. I diced it as small as my knife would make it. Wedding soup is pretty easy once the meatballs are made. I made them kind of big this time, it was tough to judge at the beginning how big they would turn out. And some of them fell apart in the soup. Who knows, maybe that’s supposed to happen. I’ll keep thinking that way.

don’t tell me they don’t look good.  I don’t want to hear it.

Neither recipe called for acine de pepe, but we put some in anyway. We like it. Karen dumped in about a cup. And it turns out that a cup of acine de pepe is approximately 12 billion little pasta balls.

Soup was good and Karen was pleasantly surprised to see it already making when she came home.

Filling the house with smoke….again

15 11 2007

I like my cast iron skillets, they make me feel so frontier-ly. That’s a lie. I like them because Alton Brown says I should. He’s always right, you know.

I had this idea for acorn squash risotto from my Mario Batali cookbook. But what to serve with it? I searched the Food Network for roasted chicken recipes, and there it was on the third page of results: Lemon and sage roasted chicken. It sounded good, and it sounded easy, which is better. I wanted to be able to focus my attention on the risotto, which I’ve heard is easy to ruin if you don’t mind it well. Gordon Ramsay is always screaming at those idiots on Hell’s Kitchen because they invariably ruin the risotto at least once each night. And I can understand it now, because to have four or five things going at once, including one or two risotto skillets, would be very hard to keep track of. Here’s how mine looked when I was done:

and if I can do it on my first try, so can you

Anyway, as it turned out the chicken recipe I found was from Michael Symon, Food Network’s new Iron Chef who hails from Cleveland, OH. Go Cleveland! First the Cavs go to the finals, the Indians make the ALCS, it looks like the Browns are playoff bound, and now this. An Iron Chef. How is it that I can bring football into anything?

I was talking about something, wasn’t I? Oh yes, my cast iron skillet. I quartered the chicken and heated both pans but good, put some olive oil and butter in, and dropped in the chicken, skin side down.

SMOKE! Lots of it, too. Around that time Karen came home and asked if we have fire insurance. “Don’t worry,” explained Mark, “I’ve got the fire extinguisher right here.”

it was done smoking by this time….I think

This seems to happen any time I’m searing a piece of meat; the house fills with smoke. I’ve stopped trying to make burgers inside because of this. That and I did almost burn the house down last year making burgers on the electric grill on our now deceased Jenn-Air range. Maybe the pans are too hot, or perhaps I need a real hood to take the smoke out of the house. If I knew the answer I wouldn’t still be doing it, would I?

Here’s the chicken after it was done. In this particularly dramatic image of the chicken thigh one of the sage leaves breaks through the skin in a manner reminiscent of the Alien movies:

this isn’t CGI; this is real.

It came out okay. The flavor was good, but I brought the chicken out too soon. We had to finish off some of the bigger pieces in the microwave. Once again I was faced with the paradox of almost burning the chicken while undercooking it.  Maybe next time I’ll actually use my digital thermometer.

Another thing. If you look at the recipe it calls for 6oz. of butter for 6 chicken breasts. That’s a stick and a half of butter, folks. I used about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter in each pan, and that even seemed like too much fat. If chef Symon continues cooking like this he’ll be rivaling Mario’s girth in about a year.

Mixed messages

29 08 2007

Have I told  you that I’m tough to shop for?  I am.  Everything I want is expensive and specialized and I don’t really want to receive that kind of thing as a present.  Maybe a good Christmas present this year is permission to go guitar shopping…

Anyway, last year for my birthday Karen got me, among other things, two soup cookbooks that have both served us well, except for the red wine broth that almost ruined Valentines day.  So this year I was excited when I received, among other things, two grilling cookbooks. Boy Gets Grill by Bobby Flay and Weber’s Big Book of Grilling.  She could’ve finished the job and got me a charcoal grill to go with it.  Our last Smokey Joe lasted 10 years.

I was very excited to see some of the recipes and stuff in these books.  Weber even discusses gas grilling.  But now I’m wondering at the message that Karen is sending me.  “I love you honey, but seriously, get that chicken under control.”