Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes
It’s not surprising that the lovely and talented Mrs. Hamilton is married to an equally engaging and capable gentleman. Mr. Peña and I agree that Mr. Hamilton holds the top slot on our survive-a-zombie-attack-or-other-apocalyptic-scenario team roster. He’s also the easiest man I know to shop for. At the end of each January, he checks in with me to schedule his annual birthday dinner, and I pick up his gift at the meat counter several weeks later with the groceries. Both spouses were averse to mushrooms until the first time I made this for them, but now they’re believers.
I should warn you that you will open a door with this recipe that doesn’t close. For example, I acquired Mr. Peña with this meal, setting the bar a little higher than I would have had I not been in the heat of the culinary moment. Originally titled Teeny Tiny, my mother would make a petite version if one of us had an emotionally trying day and was feeling particularly teeny and/or tiny. I’ve renamed it as an homage to the man who may one day save my family’s brains.
To serve 4:
4 filet mignons, size dependent on budget and preference (I use modest 1″-thick cuts)
4 Russet potatoes
2 12-oz pkgs white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced with stems, 1/8″-thick
1 16-oz package baby carrots
1 C whole milk
1 C/2 sticks butter, to be safe
3/4 C grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 C cooking sherry
1 tbsp herbs de Provence (blend of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender; you can just mix up whichever of those you already have)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
Set the oven to 350, grease up the potatoes with olive oil, and stab them repeatedly with a sharp fork. Bake them until it they hardly resist a poking. You’re looking at about an hour and a half.
Start the mushrooms when you’ve got about 15 minutes left on the potato clock. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium-high. Once the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté. After a few minutes of turning and cooking, add another 1 tbsp of butter and melt it in. The mushrooms will soften and release about 1/3 C of liquid. Keep the heat at medium-high until the liquid cooks off, turning the mushrooms frequently to prevent burning. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the sherry and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the alcohol boils off. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl, cover, and set on the stove-top to keep warm.
Ding! Either your potatoes are done, or you need to up your hustle. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Set a ricer over a large mixing bowl. Holding a potato using a dishcloth or folded paper towel, cut two slits in the top to form a lemon shape. Peel the cut skin off, and carefully spoon the piping hot potato into the ricer bin, getting out as much as you can without tearing the husk. Rice the potato, then repeat with the other three. Set the empty skins on a cookie sheet. Cut half a stick of butter into tbsp chunks and bury them in the potatoes to melt. Stir vigorously while you slowly pour in the milk, beating in as much air as possible. Then add the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and combine (don’t worry if the cheese doesn’t melt completely).
Spoon the potato whip back into the shells, and pile any extra filling on the tops. Sprinkle with paprika to get a little Lawrence Welk-ish nostalgia going, and wedge a pat of butter into each. Put them back in the oven and bake until they’re hot all the way through, about a half hour. Give yourself a 15-minute break (just enough time for a cigarette and a fresh Diet Coke!).
Throw the carrots into a medium saucepan with 1″ of water, 1 tbsp of butter and a pinch of herbs de Provence, and set the heat to low. Put 2 tbsp of butter in your largest (flat) pan and set it over medium-high heat. Let the butter melt and froth, then add the steaks. You need an equal ratio of free space to meat in your pan to do this correctly, so cook them simultaneously in 2 pans if necessary. Fry the steaks over medium-high for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the mushrooms to the pan, and give each steak another 4 minutes on each side, turning the mushrooms frequently. You’ll need to adjust the time slightly since it’s difficult to convey flame strength, but you want to end up with rare, not raw.
The carrots are done when they’re al dente, and that should be right about now, along with the potatoes, steak and mushrooms. By your thirtieth time making this meal, you’ll have perfected the timing, so don’t worry about being a basket case for the first one. Drain the carrots and plate everything up, generously topping the steaks with mushrooms.
The dishes are going to be a bitch for this one, but the acclaim and self-satisfaction more than compensate.