Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ample Ventilation Needed

I vividly remember the first time I made blackened steak. It was during a cooking class and I caught my oven mitt on fire.

Who knew the combination of clarified butter and cotton would be that flammable? That day's lesson: Don't spill clarified butter on your oven mitt then get too close to the heat. Thankfully the professional grade oven hoods at the school were in good working order and I had the wherewithal to beat the fire out quickly..

The second time I tried making blackened steak was at my parent's, and we had to air out the house from all of the smoke emitted from the searing steak and burning herbs. No fire that time, but an interesting evening to say the least.

I have since perfected the technique, but that adrenaline rush sure does make one hungry!

Smoke and fire aside, this is one of my favorite preparations of steak other than a simple searing. The seasonings punch up the flavor, and extreme heat seals them in for a wonderful crust. Its a great way to make a less than appealing cut of steak into something spectacular.

Start with a spice rub on your choice of steak, anything from a skirt or flank steak to a NY strip.

The spice rub should consist of a combination of salt, pepper, and dried herbs like thyme.

Massage the spice rub on the sides of the steaks and allow to rest a moment. In the mean-time you can melt down butter and begin to clarify it. Heat a few Tbsp of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan over low heat. Allow the butter to almost simmer skimming off the foam periodically. The clarified butter should be like liquid gold, and crystal clear. We will pour a spoonful over the searing steaks once it's in the pan.

Make sure you have ample ventilation in your kitchen. Turn the hood fan on. Open the windows. Temporarily disable your smoke detector. There will be some smoke.

If you have a cast iron frying pan set it on the heat, and get it screaming hot. Way hot. (for the more prevalent non-stick pans do the same, but with the tiniest bit of oil in the bottom, so the pan doesn't scorch.)

Place your steak in the pan and don't move it! This is where the heat turns the spice rub into the yummy crust. Carefully spoon about 1 Tb of clarified butter over top the steak. The butter may flame up if the pan is hot enough.

After a minute or two you may flip the steak, and repeat the clarified butter bath. Cook the steak to the doneness of your preference. For a thicker steak, you may want to finish the cooking in the oven (350* F). (Make sure the handle of the skillet is heat proof, or wrap it in tin foil.)

Let the steak rest a minute or two so the juices can work their magic and the temperature come down and the juice to redistribute inside the steak. This is a very important step!

You can then slice the steak(s) for a hearty sandwich, or serve as an entree for dinner.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Simple Quick Spagehtti Dinner for One (or Two)

I cannot extol the virtues of canned diced (no salt added) tomatoes enough. Sure a sauce made with the freshest of vine ripened tomatoes is fabulous, but who has the time anymore to peel seed, and dice all those wonderful fruits? And the tomatoes this time of year? Forget quality friend.

So, canned diced tomatoes are versatile in the kitchen, for sauces, soups, casseroles... the list could probably go for a very lengthy while. I like them for a quick tomato sauce or gravy because they cook down quickly and can be mashed into a chunky sauce.

You will need:

1/2 Onion, diced
2 Cloves garlic, smashed and diced
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 box of spaghetti noodles (whole wheat)

Start a large pot of water for the noodles, on high to bring to a rolling boil. In the mean-time saute the onion in a large skillet until translucent. Once the onions are clear, add the diced garlic and turn down the heat to low, so the garlic doesn't burn. After letting the garlic heat through, pour in the two cans of tomatoes. You can pour out some of the liquid to reduce the cooking time. Bring the tomato mix to a simmer and reduce liquid by about half. By then the water should be ready for the pasta. Make sure to cook until al dente.

When the tomato liquid has reduced sufficiently, take a potato masher to the mess and release all your stress by squishing the tomato bits within an inch of their lives. When the pasta reaches al dente, remove from the pasta water and add to your tomato sauce. Toss to coat and serve with a good bit of Parmesan cheese on top.

This should make enough for two meals and can easily be modified for variety. I would try chicken tenders for a Chicken Parmesan type dish, or turkey meatballs. Serve with a side salad or garlic bread for a traditional Italian-American meal.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Not so Glorious Bread

So in the day to day business and most recent bout of craziness in my life I accidentally forgot about my poor sour dough starter and it got moldy. Really Really moldy. Ich!

I can only learn from this; mostly that I should follow through with projects involving living critters (aka yeast), and that next time I will start the starter with whole wheat flour, and feed it fresh flour, not the stale yucky stuff I forgot I had.

Next on my agenda? Probably planning out a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal for my lovely family. We keep it more or less traditional with the roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all that good stuff, and then we like to throw in something different every once in a while for good measure. We shall see!