Monthly Archives: January 2011

Sending Andy off to SIA with a Sara Steak Dinner

Andy always says that my idea of a “steak dinner” is not like everyone else’s…and I am ok with that because, mine is better! No minimally seasoned hunk of meat with a side of baked potato and a dollop of sour cream for me. Although these do have their place, I usually can’t help but add a little something extra to make it special. Instead: Steak with wine and mushroom sauce, gratin dauphinois and spinach salad. That’s what I call a steak dinner Hungry Ginger style!

First, start with the most time consuming element, the gratin dauphinois, which is basically layers of thinly sliced potatoes with butter, milk and cheese. How can you go wrong with that!

The Ingredients: two largish Yukon Gold potatoes (no others will do. The sweetness and texture of these potatoes really lend themselves to a dish like this. Other potatoes would be less flavorful and more likely to fall apart.), a cup of boiling whole milk, a couple handfuls of gruyere cheese (to taste), about 8 knobs of butter (4 tablespoons) plus some for greasing the pan, a clove of garlic, white pepper.

The Recipe: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Smash a clove of garlic with the side of your knife and rub it all over the inside of a gratin dish (see pictures below for the kind of dish I mean) then take a bit of softened butter and rub it all over the inside of the dish so it is evenly and very well coated. Peel and slice thinly two Yukon gold potatoes. Layer the first one on the bottom of the pan, just overlapping so that the entire bottom is covered. Take 4 of your knobs of butter (about 2 tablespoons quartered) and scatter them across the potatoes. Give them a good grinding of white pepper and sprinkle one handful of the shredded gruyere cheese. Do the same with the second potato, remaining knobs of butter, gruyere and more pepper. As you are doing this, heat up a cup of whole milk on the stove (keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over). Transfer your baking dish to the stove and turn it on medium. Pour on the boiling milk and wait until the milk begins to simmer in the dish as well before you put it in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes, start the eggs for the salad (2 eggs on cold water set on high heat) and turn your attention to the steak.

I like this steak because the flavor of the meat is totally enhanced by the red wine and mushrooms. You can still taste the meatiness of the steak but with the addition of the slightly tangy red wine and earthy mushrooms it becomes a more complete dish. A more perfect marriage of flavors is hard to find with so few ingredients.

Speaking of Ingredients: Two NY Strip steaks, one shallot, a nob of butter and a dash of olive oil, about 7 or 8 wild mushrooms (I prefer a mixture of Crimini and Shitake), about half a bottle of robust red wine, a cup or so of beef stock.

The Recipe: Season the steaks on both sides with a little coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and let sit for a few minutes. Set a heavy bottomed pan on the stove on medium high heat. Add the butter and a dash of your preferred cooking oil (this helps the butter not to burn since we will be cooking these steaks on pretty high heat for maximum browning). As soon as the butter begins to turn golden and the pan is hot, add the steaks. Increase the heat a little as the steaks will cool the pan down. If the steaks are thick (an inch or more) you should cook them 5 to 6 min per side for medium rare. If they are less than an inch, I would say no more than 4 min per side. As the steaks are cooking, put 4 slices of bacon (for the salad) to cook on the stove. The egg water should be boiling about this time. Set the timer for 15 min. When the steaks are finished, set them on a plate and cover with tin foil. Turn the heat down a little and add some diced shallot and the mushrooms, chopped. Cook until the shallot is just starting to brown and the mushrooms are softening and then add the red wine and beef stock to deglaze. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half and only then do you season (the flavors are being concentrated and you don’t want the salt to be concentrated as well). As your sauce is reducing, remove your bacon to a paper towel lined plate and check on the gratin dauphinois. It may need 10 more minutes depending on your oven. It will be starting to really brown at this point and you must remind yourself of the difference between brown and black. Brown is good, especially around the edges so don’t be afraid of a little or a lot of color in this case. Remove the dish from the oven when it is ready and tent with some foil while you finish the steak and put the salad together.

This salad is something that you don’t want to make too often (you will see why) but it is so yummy and a great way to use that random bag of spinach (or really any other salad fixings you may have in the crisper) to make something really elegant.

The Ingredients: 2 of the aforementioned hard boiled eggs, two handfuls of fresh spinach, 4 slices of bacon, three tablespoons of the bacon fat, half a tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, blue cheese crumbles.

The Recipe: Once your eggs have been boiling for 15 minutes, remove to a bath of ice water. In a small sauce pan, heat the bacon fat and add the Dijon and vinegar. Wisk to mix and turn off heat. Peel and slice the eggs and place on top of the Spinach on two plates. Crumble the cooked bacon and scatter on the blue cheese. Top with the dressing.

To finish the steak: when your sauce has reduced, season and add the steaks back to the pan, turning them to coat with sauce. Place them on two plates and smother with the sauce. Add a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Put the gratin dauphinois on the plate where it can also soak up some of the sauce. Serve with bread for mopping.

Chicken Pot Pies!

Andy finally made chicken pot pies on Sunday and we realized why we don’t make them that often…don’t get me wrong, they are fabulous, just a little, well, time consuming. We have never been able to find a recipe that has all the elements that we are looking for. Many pot pie recipes use filo dough, which is fine in a pinch but we really wanted that true flakey pie crust. Then some of the recipes that do use real pie crust only use it on the top. We want beautiful flakey crust on the top, bottom AND sides. In the end we combined the filling recipe from an old issue of Bon Appetite and the crust recipe from one of our Best of America’s Test Kitchen Cookbooks, their “Fool-Proof Pie Crust.” Now I am sometimes a bit skeptical of things that say “Fool-proof”…I mean, really, that is quite an assertion. In the end, I must say, my incredulity was blown out of the water! The crust turned out so flakey and buttery and fabulous…mmmmm. But I am getting ahead of myself. The ingredients included chilled butter and shortening, flour, salt, chilled water and, here’s the kicker, chilled vodka. Yep, apparently the vodka makes it much more difficult to overwork the dough, whereas with only water, it is possible to overwork and get tough dough, not good eats. Another different thing about this was that instead of blending the flour, butter in a food processor and then slowly drizzling in the cold liquid until the dough came together, you blend the flour, salt, butter and shortening so that it makes a dry sand-like mixture, turn that into a bowl and the fold in the chilled water and vodka with a mixing spoon. It came together perfectly. I tasted it and it tasted like dough! As promised, no hint of a vodka flavor. Dough formed into two four inch disks and into the fridge for 45 min.

Filling quite simple: onion sauted with with 8 oz chopped mushrooms, 2 celery stalks and 2 carrots added. Cooked until softened. Add a couple cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of fresh thyme, saute for a few min, add a cup of good white wine and reduce until the wine is almost gone….literally, there shouldn’t be much liquid left at all. We just want it to flavor the veg, not make it soupy. Add 2.5 cups chicken stock and bring to a simmer then add 5 tablespoons of softened butter that has been mixed with 5 tablespoons of flour, kind of a pre-made, uncooked roux if you will. This will greatly thicken the sauce, then add 1/3 cup heavy cream and 5 cups or one Safeway roasted chicken’s worth of shredded cooked chicken. Finally add a cup of frozen peas and cook for a minute or so until they are cooked through. Salt and Pepper to taste and take off the heat.

We decided to par bake the bottom of the crust because we didn’t want it to get too soggy. Andy rolled out enough to fit our two ceramic pie tins (recently, joyfully discovered finds at Crate and Barrel). We tried to make them look pie-like, pinching the edges and everything. Then, into the freezer for 10 min followed by a stay in a 400 degree oven for 20 min. In order to prevent them from puffing up or browning we put foil on them, making sure that it draped over the edges slightly, and then we fitted another pie tin on top to weigh it down. You could also use dry beans for this. While they were par baking, Andy rolled out the top crust using another upside down tin as a guide. Par baked crust out of the oven, we filled them with the warm filling and covered with the top crust, tucking the edges into the inner part of the outer crust. Then they were egg washed and popped into a 375 degree oven for 25 min until golden brown. And don’t forget to poke holes in the crust so any steam can escape. I just stabbed them randomly a few times with a fork and was chastised for not making it pretty enough (at this point it was midnight) so you might want to do a pretty star or flower pattern in the middle if you like.

We finally ate at 12:30 am and it was worth it. Beautiful, flakey crust, succulent filling….mmmmm. Comfort food at it’s finest.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

Some of you may be aware that I have co-opted the title of the blog post for Elizabeth David’s iconic little tome about the wonder and joy of food. I do not think she would mind though given that this latest entry is an homage in every sense of the word to the spirit of that book. “An Omelette and  Glass of Wine” is in many ways an exploration of the many nuances of food from the simple to the elaborate, from a small town in the South of France to your kitchen at home. I love the title because it suggests something so basic, yet so delightfull…an omelette and a glass of wine. Who could ask for more really?

The other night, New Years Day night to be precise, I was feeling under the weather, either from the head cold that has recently taken hold of my sinuses or the festivities from the night before…probably both. Needless to say, I was not in the mood for anything elaborate but I yearned for something comforting, home cooked and cheap (the holidays this year being particularly unkind to my pocketbook). I settled on something my Uncle Bill had made for us when we were in California for my Grandmother’s 94th Birthday this past week. I forget the french term but it is basically an “omelette from the forest” or something like that. In it he put potatoes, spinach, bacon and mushrooms. It was more “frittata” style without the baking or cooking on both sides, so the top was lovely and creamy, despite the shocking lack of cheese, and studded with tender Yukon Gold potatoes, salty bacon, just wilted spinach and mushrooms sautéed in butter. I didn’t actually see him make the whole thing so I had to make it up as I went along but here is the recipe that I came up with:

Ingredients (for two hungry people): two small Yukon Gold potatoes, 3 slices of bacon, a handful of baby spinach, 3 mid-sized Crimini mushrooms, 3 mid-sized shiitake mushrooms, 1/4 of a small onion, 7 eggs, butter.

Directions: First I set the potatoes to boil until fork tender (about 15 minutes). While that was going on I cooked the bacon in an 11.5 inch frying pan and drained to a paper towel lined plate and gave the mushrooms and about a quarter of a smallish onion and rough chop. When the potatoes were finished I wiped out the bacon pan with a paper towel, leaving the slightest hint of bacon fat behind and adding to that a knob of butter (about a tablespoon – those mushrooms can get very absorbent). When the butter was hot but not browning yet, smelling ever so slightly of bacon, I added the onion and mushrooms, cooking until the mushrooms were soft and the onion just beginning to get some color. To that I added the roughly chopped potato (the pieces should be large enough so that they are a healthy bite along with some egg – Yukons are so delicious that you don’t want them to get lost). When the potato started to get a little golden on the edges, I added the handful of baby spinach and cooked until wilted – 2 or 3 minutes, stirring a few times. Finally I added the 7 eggs which had been beaten with about 3 tablespoons of whole milk. I then sprinkled on the bacon which had been patted down to get rid of some of the grease and torn  into rough pieces. At this time I made sure the heat was on medium low. I didn’t want to over cook the bottom but I also didn’t want the top to be runny. There should still be some movement to the egg on top. Don’t be afraid of that. It will become wonderfully creamy, almost as if there is cheese on it. To help the cooking along, I occasionally tore a little hole in the center where the pan was the hottest and let some of the runny egg from the sides fill the void. When you can shake the pan and the egg on top moves ever so slightly but doesn’t run around the pan, it is done. Cut into quarters and serve…with a green salad and a glass of wine of course!

This will definitely become a staple of our kitchen. Thanks Uncle Bill and Elizabeth David!