April 20 – April 26, 2020
Monday: Romaine with Caesar Dressing and Leftovers: Roast Chicken with Pan Sauce, Risotto with Mushrooms and Thyme, Crab Cakes – Make Tomato-Feta Pasta Salad?
Tuesday: Spicy-Sweet Sambal Pork Noodles with Greens
Wednesday: Cashew Nam Prik and Creamy Ricotta with Crudites / Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Lemon-Grass Sauce
Thursday: Avocado Toast, Cornerstone Salad with Chicken
Friday: Cannellini Beans with Basil, Tomatoes, Chicken and Parmesan
Saturday: Guacamole, Smokey Strata
Sunday: Ranch Dip with Crudités, Strip Steaks, Roasted Potatoes, Asparagus
We love steak, but we don’t love steakhouses. I’m not speaking of the one-of-a-kind places like Gibson’s in Chicago, but rather the higher-end chains which do, indeed, offer wonderfully-cooked steak accompanied, however, by undistinguished creamed spinach and mashed potatoes and Brobdingnagian desserts that cost an arm and a leg, and often a heart valve. And many of these places have been known to attract jerks and show-offs. [Note: As a long-time business traveler, I can highly recommend eating at the bar at Morton’s in King-of-Prussia. You can dine, not economically, but not lavishly, if you eat from the bar menu. The bartenders are pros and the bar is populated by regulars who can clue you in on the territory and who, after a few pops, can be quite entertaining. The rest of the house is filled with families celebrating birthdays, groups of businessmen and women trying to impress one another, and, of course, occasionally, by people like you and me who are truly interesting and wonderful and to be admired in every possible way.]
Enough of the curmudgeon. Last Sunday we had a marvelous steak-house dinner, based on three fine strip steaks, part of a package from Kansas City that brother-in-law Bill sends us for Christmas every year. We have encouraged him to include a codicil in his will, along with a well-funded foundation, so that these steaks will be sent to us and our offspring in perpetuity.
I know how to cook a steak that, trust me, will knock your socks off taste-wise and temperature-wise (medium-rare, thank you – if you like your steak well-done why not just buy ground beef and overcook it? It will taste the same, be easier to chew, and save you many dollars). But what to go with? We can’t stand creamed spinach which, we suspect, involves a kick-back scheme as part of a plot by the spinach growers association. But we do like asparagus, which is also green, and we had just figured out the best possible way to cook it. We don’t dislike mashed potatoes, but their unctuous creaminess seems to us to coat the tongue and reduce the beefy power of the steak. But crisp roasted potatoes are not only good in their own right, they know their place as a supporting actor.
Below, I’ve given you the basic idea for all of the food in our steak house dinner. SWMBO, known for her forthrightness in all things, is not shy about noting too much or too little salt, a dish that is not hot enough, or overcooked, or where the vegetables are cut too large or too small . . . Cooking for SWMBO is not for the faint-of-heart. You will hear, immediately, about the shortcomings of your dish, and you will learn to thank her for the information since it will make you a better cook, and, in any event, what’s the alternative?
Steak with Asparagus and Roasted Potatoes
A quick introductory note to the recipes below: All of these items have a specific cooking time which cannot be pinned down exactly in a recipe, since steaks and asparagus vary in thickness, and, in the case of the potatoes, I don’t know how hot your oven runs. Therefore, once you start cooking any of them, you have to pay attention. If you like to cook with a glass of wine or something stronger – pour it before you start. If a television program to which you are addicted is playing, don’t start cooking until it is done. And if Aunt Martha calls, tell her to call back tomorrow.
How to Cook a Steak (indoors)
[Note: you’ll want to have your potatoes par-cooked and roasting in the oven, before you cook your steak. You can cook the asparagus while the steak rests. And, if you’re cooking for SWMBO, you’ll want to arrange the steak on a serving platter and then surround it with the potatoes and asparagus.]
Pre-cooking: If your steaks are frozen, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator, or for 6-8 hours in the refrigerator and another hour or two on a plate on the counter. If your steaks are fresh, allow 30 – 60 minutes or more to bring them to room temperature.
5 minutes to heat skillet, 6 – 10 minutes to cook – 10 minutes to let steak rest.
Strip steaks – we have a large skillet that can hold three – if you don’t, you’ll need two skillets for 3 or 4 steaks.
Grapeseed or some other neutral oil with a high burning point
Thyme – if you don’t have fresh thyme, skip this item
Salt (Kosher, of course) and Pepper (black, ground)
Salt and pepper the steaks on all sides. (we used KC Steaks seasoning on one side of the steaks – any steak seasoning you like is fine)
Crush one large garlic clove for each skillet you are using.
You’ll need about a tablespoon of oil and 2 or more tablespoons of butter for each skillet (we used about 3 tablespoons with our large skillet)
Add oil to hot skillet and swirl to cover entire surface.
When the oil starts to dance/ripple, add steaks to pan and cook until nicely seared and browned. DO NOT TOUCH STEAKS FOR THE FIRST 3 MINUTES. At that point check. Our steaks were just a little over 1” thick and, at 3 minutes, they were seared and brown. Now turn the steaks over and cook for the same time on the other side.
Thicker steaks may require 4 minutes per side or more to achieve medium-rare.
Look, knowing when the steak is cooked takes some experience. Before you cook, press the steak with your thumb – it will be squishy. Medium-rare will be firmer. If you overcook the steak, it will be firm. This takes some experience to figure out – and even then you’ll miss the mark from time to time.
After the second side is seared, turn the heat down to between medium and low, add the butter, thyme (if using) and garlic to the pan. Tilt pan so that the melted butter pools and cook, basting constantly, for another 90 seconds or so.
Remove from pan, cover (loosely) with foil. Reserve the butter. Let the steak stand for 8-10 minutes.
Slice the steak across the grain and pour the reserved butter over the slices and serve.
(loosely based on Ina Garten – but with parboiled potatoes – much shorter time)
Timing: Par-boil potatoes until tender – maybe 15 minutes
Roast potatoes for 15-20 minutes, until nicely browned
Enough small potatoes or fingerlings to feed your crowd
Pre-heat oven to 400 F
Put potatoes, unpeeled, in a pan and cover with cold water.
Bring to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes or longer, until a knife goes through potatoes with just a slight resistance. When you boil potatoes for mashed potatoes, you want a totally cooked potato. In this recipe, you’ll be halving the potatoes after they cool and then roasting them in the oven. So you don’t want them to be mushy.
When potatoes are cool enough to handle, halve them. Then toss on a sheet pain with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Be generous with all of these ingredients.
Place sheet pan with potatoes in oven and cook – tossing them after 5 minutes, and then after 10 minutes, and then cooking until they are nicely browned and a bit crisp.
(adapted from ‘Cooking Basics,’ “Great Courses”, Chef Sean Kahlenberg)
I know – you can boil asparagus – but Kahlenberg has convinced me that boiling leaches the taste out of the asparagus. You can keep boiling whenever you feel like it – but, at least try this method.
Timing: Prep time, plus 8 minutes to cook
As much medium-thick asparagus as fits into your skillet in a single layer (or less)
Note: You can use very thick asparagus if that’s what you have. Very thin is not worth cooking in this fashion.
Butter (enough to cover the bottom of your skillet when it melts – 4-6 tablespoons)
Break the woody ends off each stalk of asparagus – grab the asparagus 1/3 from the bottom and flex the bottom end until it snaps off.
If you have very thick asparagus, you might want to peel a thin layer off the bottom two thirds of the trimmed stalks. Otherwise, I would not bother.
Heat skillet to between medium and medium high
When skillet is hot, add butter.
When butter begins to foam, add asparagus and cook, tossing or rotating spears every two minutes or so, for 8 minutes (more for very thick asparagus). When asparagus begins to soften, cook it for another minute.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat.