June 8 – June 14, 2020
Monday: Blue Cheese Burgers with Grilled Tomatoes and Salad
Tuesday: Beef, Spinach and Feta-Stuffed Flatbread with Pickled Scallion
Wednesday: Open-Faced Turkey Sandwich with Swiss and Tomato
Thursday: Orecchiette with Tomato-Ricotta Almond Pesto, Salad
Friday: Shrimp and Couscous with Tomatoes and Toasted Almonds
Saturday: Pasta with Sausage and Eggplant, Salad
Sunday: Porterhouse with Summer au Poivre Sauce, Grilled Fingerlings,
Green Salad, App of Shrimp on Crackers
Do any of these ring a bell? Madras sportscoats, the Ozzie and Harriet Show, white bucks and saddle shoes, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “I like Ike” buttons, the Ed Sullivan Show? If they do, you are of my generation: a child of the fifties and sixties.
It was a glorious time for the middle class in America. I remember long summer days at the swimming pool, fathers coming by to collect us late in the day – on the weekends, often after a round of golf. During the week there was tuna-noodle casserole, macaroni and hot-dog casserole, Welsh Rarebit and assorted plates of the day which our mothers concocted to feed what would now be considered large families (there were five of us kids). But on weekends, there were cocktail parties with stuffed celery hors d’oeuvres, and steaks on the grill and baked potatoes in the oven and the pleasant drift of happy conversation in the warm dark after dinner as we sat on the steps in our pajamas and listened to our parents and their friends having fun.
It is true that the threat of nuclear annihilation hovered in the background. (If you remember Ike, you remember Gary Powers and the U2 incident.) But it was sweet most of the time and its books and movies and television and clothes and the overwhelming (by today’s standards) politeness of all classes toward each other, left its mark on all of us. As did those tuna-noodle casseroles, macaroni with hotdogs, baked flounder and Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks for the Catholics among us, phosphates and floats at the soda fountain of the local drugstore and, for Pittsburghers, crispy Klondikes.
Last Sunday we did our best to recreate that atmosphere. There was, first, the gathering of family (Billy and Emily and Andrew), and then the beers and cocktails (though not with those wonderful sterling silver and horn instruments with which my father concocted martinis and gimlets), and there was glorious grilled steak rested beneath a pat of butter and some sea salt for 10 minutes or so and there was, above all, creamy shrimp on crackers. This last is so quintessential an app of the fifties and sixties that as soon as I saw the recipe – part of a cookout for an extended family in Philadelphia – I knew that I had to try it. Townhouse crackers (quite buttery) were part of the deal, so I didn’t spring it on SWMBO until the last minute, not ready to brave that eye-widening stare above compressed lips which can mean either, “You’re not going dressed like that, are you?” or “Did you really say that?” or “Do you know how many calories there are in those things?”
And among us, Beez, Billy, Andrew, Emily* and I polished off those shrimp crackers, demolished most of two Porterhouse steaks and a New York Strip, and had a fine, retro-time doing it. We even stayed late on the porch, laughing and talking in the dark. I didn’t feel a day older than 10 – in fact, I never do.
*To make the night complete, Emily brought us a hunk of her wonderful blueberry coffee cake which lasted until about 8:00 a.m. the next morning.
So, this week’s recipes will help you to recreate that dinner. You’ll need the recipe for the shrimp – it’s not in any contemporary cookbook. And, while I know that you have your own method for cooking steaks on the grill, I’ll toss in mine, just in case you’d like your family to do that happy thing that Phil of “Somebody Feed Phil” does with a fork when he’s eaten something really good.
CREAMY SHRIMP ON CRACKERS
(adapted from bon appétit, June/July, 2020 – created by Omar Tate, chef-owner of Honeysuckle in Philadelphia)
Timing: 40 minutes to cook and cool shrimp – 10 minutes to finish
(you need the cream cheese – see ingredient list below – to be at room temperature. If you forgot to take it out of the refrigerator 2 hours before using, let it sit (still in its package) in warm water until it softens.
1 lb. shrimp peeled and deveined (to thaw frozen shrimp put into bowl of water, then put bowl under a small stream of running, cold water for 10 minutes)
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (more won’t hurt)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ¾ teaspoons of Morton’s Kosher salt to cook the shrimp, plus another ¼ teaspoon for dressing
32 butter crackers (Town House, e.g.)
Paprika for garnish
Cook the shrimp:
Put shrimp and 1 ¾ teaspoons of Morton’s Kosher salt in a medium pot with 1 quart of water. Set over medium low (water should come to a bare simmer) and cook until shrimp are just cooked through, 10-14 minutes. If in doubt, take out a shrimp, cut off a piece and taste it.
Drain and put into bowl of ice water to stop cooking and chill. When cool, drain and refrigerate until ready to make appetizers.
Make the Dressing:
Mix sour cream, cream cheese, remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl.
Now mix in the celery, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste and add anything you need.
Slice the chilled shrimp in half lengthwise and then slice crosswise in 1/4’” pieces. Fold shrimp into dressing.
Top each cracker with a tablespoon or so of the dressed shrimp. Sprinkle with paprika. Stand back and let your diners have at them.
(please ignore, if you are totally confident about this, but if you have the slightest doubt, follow the recipe below, and, even if you are confident, you might learn something.)
2 hours to let steak come to room temp – 18-30 minutes to cook and rest
Ingredients: Feeds 4
2 Porterhouse Steaks – 2” thick – about 2 lbs. or more, each
Note: if you have thinner steaks, adjust cooking time, below, accordingly
Ground Black Pepper
Good butter (European or Irish style works well)
Flaky Sea Salt (Maldon is perfect)
Bring the steaks to room temperature (take them out of the refrigerator 2 hours before cooking), trim any hard fat you wish, and salt and pepper on both sides generously.
Build a hot direct fire in your grill, with a space to the side for indirect cooking. (In a barrel grill, pile the coals into one half, leaving the other half free. In a Weber, same deal. With a gas grill, I’m not sure but would guess that you have to turn on one or two burners to high and leave one or two off.)
Allow the grill grates to heat up for at least five minutes, then clean them with an oiled rag or paper towel.
Lay the steaks on the grill, directly over the hot spot with the filets of the Porterhouse toward the cooler part of the grill. In about 8 minutes, by flipping and even turning them on edge, you should be able to get a dark, brown sear on all sides. Take a bit longer, if you need to.
Now move the steaks to the cool side of the grill to cook indirectly and close the lid. Cook for another 10-12 minutes. (This is approximate – after you’ve cooked enough steaks, you’ll be able to tell by touch, whether they’re done to medium rare or whatever you prefer. Err on the side of underdone – remove the steaks and cut into them to see if they’re cooked to your desire. Cutting into a steak will not deflate it! Put the steaks back on the grill if they’re too raw. Note: they’re going to rest for at least 10 minutes during which time they will continue to cook. If you have an instant read thermometer, you’re looking for about 130 F, but you have to get the thermometer into the geographic center of the steak and that is anybody’s guess.
When the steaks are done, let them rest for 7-10 minutes. I suggest you put a pat of butter and some sea salt on both sides of the bone (i.e., one pat on the strip steak and a smaller one on the filet). If you can get a good, local creamery butter, do so. Do not tell your wife about this part – just let her enjoy the steak.
Remove the strip and the filet from the bone – slice into serving pieces then reassemble next to the bone on the platter. Garnish with parsley.