(Belated) Feliz Cumpleaños, Señor P!

Steak and Hysteria

Today (when written) is the dashingly well-dressed Mr. P’s birthday, and a great man deserves a great dinner. We discovered our new favorite way of eating steak several weeks ago via Epicurious, and having served the slices over beds of spring mix or arugula several times, I’m ready to plate this bad Larry up piping hot. There’s a fifty per cent chance I’ll be laying the strips over Puerto Rican white rice, but if that fails miserably, which it does every other time I make it, I’ll pull out a box of Near East pilaf. I anticipate that the combination of glazed shallots over white rice will be silencingly delicious, and I know of three little mouths that simply must stop making noises simultaneously for a full ten minutes at some point soon, lest our family be spotlit during local news.

Logic suggests that twin one-year-olds would experience less separation anxiety than singletons, but my girls are determined to defy everything from sleep to the laws of physics, so it fits that I can’t cross a threshold without triggering a complex dual alarm system. Aside from the dimensional portal that clearly opens when I walk away from them into the kitchen, I have no idea what exactly they think I’m doing during my tiny increments out of their sight. I can run a stack of laundry up the stairs, calling to them for the entire twenty seconds, but their wails start even before I’ve opened the door to the hall. Lately the tone of their reproach has been more wrathful than fearsome, so I suspect they picture some sort of flash party takes place, with a drop-down disco ball, anonymous dancers, and my top drawer pulled out and spilling over with candy. Most baffling, they aren’t even confined most of the time they spend screaming at me to stay; all they need do to avoid theoretical abandonment is follow me. Alas, my children appear to be wealthy estate owners trapped in a middle-class household, but they refuse to accept they don’t get a paid staff.

Normally I try to tie everything up neatly in the third paragraph, but I have a cake to frost, a table to set, and Sally the Slugger’s hitting someone with her mallet while loudly working on her first phrase: “bring it me.”

A Beefy New Year

T-Bone Peña

My resolution for the new year has been to expand my sauce repertoire, from béchamels and gravies to reductions and compotes. I’m also striving to take more risks with bottled staples and spices, so hold onto your hat, Mr. P! Speaking of whom, my doting and cultured spouse was the fortunate recipient this Christmas of four perfect T-bones from my father, Mr. S. We had the final steak last night (our cheeks have never been rosier), and I was delighted that the following tastes as good as I had imagined.

1 1-1/2″ thick T-bone steak
1 12-oz pkg white button mushrooms, sliced with stems
3 tbsp salted butter
1/2 C sherry
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Position the top oven rack so that the meat will be 2″ from the flame and turn your broiler on to high. Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and place it on a rack over a roasting pan, then stick it in the oven directly under the fire. 10 minutes per side should do it, as it will sit for a few minutes out of the oven while you finish the mushroom sauce.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and toss to coat. After a few minutes, put the remaining 1 tbsp chunk of butter in the middle of the pan and swirl it around the bottom, through the mushrooms, as it melts. At this point, your mushrooms should be sufficiently buttered. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until they release quite a bit of water. When most of it’s evaporated, sprinkle in the nutmeg and stir briefly before pouring in 1/4 C of the sherry. Boil down the liquid until the mushrooms are dark brown and just moist, then transfer them to a bowl and set it on the stove top to stay warm.

Ding! Did you manage to complete the above paragraph in 20 minutes and remember to turn the steak half-way through? If so, you should be pleased with yourself. Park the steak elsewhere and pour the fat out of the pan, then place it on a burner set to medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, pour in the other 1/4 C sherry, and swirl it around in the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen anything sticky. When it boils, incorporate the Worcestershire, throw in the mushrooms, stir, and continue cooking until they’re hot through and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Serve atop your T-bone, and don’t worry about a starch, though a salad actually works well here, bite my tongue.

Introducing the Unparalleled Mr. H

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.

Who’s got my hanger steak?

Come On, Martha, London Broil

Once a month, I browse the menus section of marthastewart.com for the latest trends in American WASP fare, which frequently involve anglicizing up a European, Asian, or South American dish based on an uncommon cut of meat. So I should have braced myself for disappointment before heading out with Billy the Kid to pick up the ingredients for her French Hanger Steak with Shallots. Now, BK loves a trip to Hannaford. He inspects the apples and pumpkins if in season, checks the swing-back on the frozen foods doors, and enjoys trapping an unsuspecting bagger into a game of “hiya.” However, after two Hannafords and a Market Basket in search of the elusive steer diaphragm, we were both cranky and in need of a doughnut. Alas, these are not Butcher Boy times. So, I used a London broil instead, and since I have no idea what hanger steak tastes like, nor its formerly conjoined twin, the skirt steak, I didn’t miss the aromatic “trace of kidney” reported by admiring butchers. Both Mr. P and I agreed that this is even better than Spot-on London Broil, but then again, we’ve had that a lot lately; it’s a cheap cut and I’m strictly pro bono at present.

1 London broil
1/4 C olive oil
2 tbsp butter (come on, Martha, you want me to sauté shallots in oil?)
1/4 C cooking sherry
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
5 shallots, quartered
salt and pepper

Whisk together the oil, sherry, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Marinate the meat for 2 hours, sealed at room temperature.

Set the highest rack to allow for two inches between the meat and the flame, and turn the broiler onto high. Transfer the steak to a wire rack over a roasting pan or a broiler pan. Broil for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness), turn with tongs, broil another 7 to 10, and the internal temperature should be just under 140. Take it out of the oven (is that condescending?) and let it stand on the rack for 5 minutes before slicing it into thin strips parallel to that infernal diagonal fat ribbon.

While the oven does its job, heat the butter in a skillet over medium and when it stops foaming, add the shallots. Separate the layers as they soften, and cook them until they caramelize, then turn the heat down to warm until the steak is done. We had no problem polishing off all the shallots with a modest steak, so don’t hold back while piling them on.

You have enough to worry about. There’s nothing wrong with beef.

Spot-On London Broil

Let’s be honest, we’re cooking at home because we’d rather save our entertainment dollars for something special, like heat and electric. Fortunately, money and time are almost always interchangeable in the kitchen, and a cheap cut of fresh meat has unlimited potential. Chances are, if there are enough of you to merit an entire London Broil, somebody’s unemployed and has the extra clock to marinate a piece of meat.

1 London Broil
2/3 C olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. The resulting marinade will be an off-putting speckled tan. Pour 1/3 of the marinade into a glass pie plate or metal cake pan, and shake the pan to coat the bottom. Place the meat in the dish, and cover with the remaining marinade. Marinating uncovered for 2 hours at room temperature yields the best results, but this may only be possible in the colder and insect-free months. Otherwise, cover it up and stick it in the fridge.

Heat up your broiler as hot as it will get. Place the top rack at the highest possible level that will allow two inches of space between the steak and the flame. Broil for about 10 minutes, until the top is a respectable brown, then turn the steak over with tongs and broil for another 10 minutes. I don’t have a knack for judging the temperature of meat, so when I think it’s done, I remove it from the oven and cut halfway into the middle along that useless seam of fat. This allows you to determine if further broiling is necessary but does not detract from the final presentation, since the steak will be sliced.

Once the steak is cooked through, remove it from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Any less and you’ll have tough meat and bloody plates. Using a super sharp knife, slice the steak into strips, cutting parallel to the fat seam mentioned earlier. Cut the slices as thin as possible, but keep in mind that the meat will cool quickly, so have any sides already plated and serve immediately. This goes really well with homemade mac & cheese and an early night.

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