Tag Archives: Beef

Not Quite an Instant

Her parents gave us an Instant Pot for Christmas last year. We love it. We’ve never had such good yogurt as the stuff we make in it. It gives us great chili, and pulled pork, and chicken stock.

I’m not completely expert at using it. I haven’t yet got brown rice to come out as tender as it would from a saucepan, or chickpeas from the slow cooker. Maybe I’m rushing things–but if the whole idea of a pressure cooker is that it works faster than other cooking methods, then I think it really ought to be faster.

Our CSA share hasn’t been piling on the carrots and parsnips quite so much as it was for a while there, but we’ve still got quite a few, and some nice potatoes. And, with a bit of chill in the evening air of late, stew seemed like a good idea—and a perfect job for the Pot. I seared the beef, I chopped the veg, I added seasonings and wine, closed the lid and headed for rehearsal.

She didn’t have stew. She had, according to the text message she sent me, “cooked beef and veggies sitting in oily liquid—not broth, not gravy.”

And, unfortunately, the gravy separator had melted in a stovetop accident sometime during the holidays last year. (We don’t make gravy very often.) Ever-resourceful, she refrigerated the solids in one container, the liquid in another, and made mac and cheese for her dinner.

When we got home the next evening–a rare night home together!–I skimmed the solidified fat, made a roux, and used the broth to make a nice, hearty gravy. I warmed the meat and veg, added them to the gravy, topped the stew-at-last with some chopped celery leaves, and we had dinner in not quite an instant.

Some things happen in a flash. Some take a very long time. Sometimes it’s a little of both. We’d known each other for ten years before our first date.

Happy anniversary to us.

The Luck of the Not-Quite-Irish

Painted in Waterlogue

Aside from Thanksgiving turkey, holiday celebrations at the Country House don’t call for a specific food. Christmas is Christmas, whether there’s boeuf bourguignon or leftover spaghetti on the table. Memorial Day might be the unofficial start of summer’s grilling season, but what goes on the grill varies from year to year. There might be pork on New Year’s Day, but whether it’s smoked sausage or spare ribs doesn’t matter to us.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. That’s not a big deal. Neither of us claims significant Irish heritage. The thing to celebrate, really, was the successful opening of my show that meant A Weeknight at Home—the first in ages. We certainly weren’t going to celebrate with green beer. (Ew. Whether it’s green or not.)

Fried chicken would have been appropriately festive, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. A slow-braised pot of corned beef and cabbage would be a nice change, but I don’t have a time machine that would have let start the braise before we left for work. If I wanted to be even remotely Irish-themed, improvisation would be required. Or, at least, a trip to the deli.

I picked up a pound of sliced corned beef. A bag of sauerkraut. Carrots were in the fridge at home. I considered letting the prepared-foods counter do the work of mashed potatoes, but a two-serving tray seemed awfully dear at $12.99, and a 5-pound bag of spuds was on sale for under a dollar.

We nibbled a little aged cheddar-flavored-with-Irish-whiskey as a starter.  That was as close to drunken debauchery as our St. Patrick’s Day would get.

I scrubbed and diced the potatoes, skin-on: the mash wouldn’t be as creamy, but it’d be healthier. Besides, I like potato skin. In the time it took the potatoes to cook, I rinsed the kraut and grated a couple of carrots into it to temper the tang, and added a little caraway seed and a grating of black pepper. This went to warm in a saucepan. (Sauerkraut is, of course, not part of an authentically Irish corned beef supper. So what? We like kraut.)  The corned beef was tossed in a hot skillet until slightly crisped.

The kraut-and-beef was piled on toasted home-baked bread. It wasn’t rye, but home-baked seemed more authentic–or at least better than store-bought. A semi-fluffy mound of mash said “Potato famine? What potato famine?”  There were green beans, just because. It was not in the least what Paddy O’Whomever’s ma would have served, but we enjoyed it.

As for luck? Well, sometimes you make your own.

IMG_0107

Certainly Not the Last Supper

It’s been a year.

The Country House looks very different than it did a year ago. There are beautifully painted walls, shiny flooring, and plush-though-hard-to-keep-clean carpet. There’s no clutter–mostly because we want to live that way, but also partly because we can’t have personal items on display while the house is on the market.

I didn’t think it was possible that we’d post here less frequently in the second half of the year than in the first six months, but I’m sorry to note that we have. It’s not from lack of interest, or lack of stories to tell, and certainly not from lack of good food. It’s just been awfully busy. Shows and meetings and rehearsals and late work nights followed by early work mornings, and, of course, preparations for our wedding. Even a simple, small wedding takes plenty of preparation.

The last two Dinners at weren’t even cooked at home: perfectly adequate Tex-Mex after we finished cat-sitting duties for friends, and chicken sandwiches and fries from the drive-through that was just about to close after a tumultuous evening of theatre and the re-claiming of a lost wallet. Last night, the Dinnerversary, was leftovers. I don’t think either of us remembered the date. (And the leftovers–Moroccan-spiced skirt steak over hummus, served with warm pita bread, farmer’s-market-fresh grape tomatoes and sliced cucumber–were excellent.)

Skirt-steak and hummus, the first time around.

Skirt-steak and hummus, the first time around.

It’s been a year since that first overcooked burger, a year since she fell asleep on the couch the movers just delivered. Well, it hasn’t been a year since she fell asleep on the couch; that still happens now and again. Burgers get overcooked from time to time, too, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Romance isn’t gone. Good cooking isn’t abandoned. We do what we can with the supplies we have, with the time we have, with the energy we have.

We took a break from commuting and rented an apartment in New York during my busiest month. It was the home of an acquaintance of mine, a composer and music director who was working out of town and visiting his family. That temporary City House was nowhere near as lovely as her former apartment–and certainly not as beautiful as the suburbs were on weekends. Sadly, it wasn’t even as convenient as we hoped it would be. It’s giving us reason to think maybe we shouldn’t move after all. Even if we do, we’ll still update this journal, at least from time to time. Even if we don’t have a Country House, we’ll still have Dinner.

Something Old, Something New

Midweek date nights are challenging when they involve a long commute home, but it was the Wednesday before a long weekend. There could be a Thursday morning sleep-in if necessary. I bought theatre tickets and she made the dinner reservation.

Pongsri is a small, family run restaurant chain that began in 1972. There are three locations in Manhattan, and the original in Bangkok. We chose the one on 47th St. in Midtown.  It would be nice to travel to home base, but we had theatre tickets nearby; dinner between work and theatre almost always means choosing by proximity. I’ve probably walked past this restaurant a hundred times without noticing. The sign out front is old and not a bit flashy; the dining room–a step below street level–is small and far from lavish. I hoped this meant that their emphasis was on the kitchen.

The menu was dauntingly long, but I picked a page–“Pongsri specialties” seemed like a good one–and limited myself to it. I wanted vegetables, but not exclusively. Pra-Ram-Long-Song—shrimp served “on a bed of broccoli”—was exactly what I was looking for. The shrimp was tender, the broccoli perfectly crisp, and the spicy-sweet peanut curry sauce was wonderful. She wanted beef, and tried Nya-Yang-Sa-Tay. Sliced steak with a cucumber salad. The “house special” peanut sauce on her steak was the same terrific stuff that accompanied my shrimp. No complaints there. We skipped appetizers, shared both entrees, and were too content with both to want dessert. If this is what Thai “home cooking” might be like, it makes me want to travel there.

On the way to Pongsri, I passed lots of businesses with flashier signage. Thinking about names, and flashy signs, I asked her: “If this kitchen staff opened a catering company that specialized in wedding banquets, would they call it Thai the Knot?” She laughed, and a companionable walk around the block brought us to the theatre.

As a cheerful usher brought us to our seats, my mouth dropped. Fifth row center for a Broadway musical. “Well, this will do,” I said, and she laughed again. We seldom know where we’re going to sit, since most of our theatre tickets come through a terrific organization that sells discounted seats to theatre professionals and educators. In exchange for the great prices, the theatre gives you whatever seats they can. Usually it’s on the side of the orchestra section, or in the mezzanine; seldom is a location this perfect.

It Shoulda Been You is a show created and co-written by a composer friend of mine. She developed it in a somewhat unusual way. After a series of weddings she’d attended at which guests behaved very oddly, she asked a bunch of her friends to collaborate on a song sung by a wedding guest.  Eventually a bookwriter signed on to help her clarify the story that was forming, then a director, then actors and producers and designers and technicians and musicians. I’ve known about this project for over a decade, but it wasn’t until a Wednesday night in April we got to see the whole show.

It was charming. Delightful. Funny. Heartfelt. Full of interesting music, clever lyrics, and great roles for strong actors. It’s still in previews, so it’s hard to tell what might yet be altered. Scenes and songs can be adjusted almost as quickly as the mother of the bride can change her mind about whether to have a Panini station at the reception. Whatever they do, it’s a show we were glad to see and to recommend.

As for the story itself, well, a musical that starts with a young woman who’s helping to organize her sister’s wedding and ends with the maid of honor in quite a different relationship than she expected with an old friend–let’s just say that we both had plenty to smile about there.

A new-to-us restaurant, and a new-though-it’s-been-in-development-for-a-long-time musical, and we liked them both: it was a perfect midweek date night.

We didn’t see any of my writer friends in the theatre, but they might have headed backstage immediately to give notes to their collaborators.  Or maybe they were in the downstairs lounge doing rewrites.  Or, comfortable with the day’s work, maybe they’d gone out to eat. Maybe for Thai food.

How Firm a Foundation

A slushy, messy snowstorm began just as it was time to head out for Sunday afternoon errands. March was arriving like a very frosty lion. Still, we made all the stops we needed: groceries, pet supplies, and a new sink for the powder room were acquired without incident. In fact, our trusty Prius fared better than many all-wheel drive vehicles we saw sliding around.

Home and safe, unloaded, we set to work.

She stirred together a marinade of soy, Worcestershire, garlic, and spices in which a small London Broil was bathed.

I chopped aromatics while she browned some sausage; then the vegetables sautéed in the drippings. She added beef stock, water, and a simple-and-tasty red wine, red lentils, shaved carrots, and probably a spice or four.  The whole lot simmered, then chopped kale was added. Half an hour later, she asked how it looked.  I fought off the urge to stop what I was doing and eat the entire pot.

I’m not sure which spices or herbs she’d added to the soup, because I had moved onto my next project.  Strawberries had been on sale, but in a larger container than we usually buy. “Well, you could make shortcake for dessert,” she said. She may have been kidding, but I thought it was a good idea.  Besides, there was a little cream left in the fridge, and there is a new immersion blender. Whipping the cream was a snap. I added a little powdered sugar and a drop of vanilla to the whole batch, served a bit of it sprinkled with cocoa powder as a treat for her, and stowed the rest in the fridge.

I made a batch of biscuit dough, dividing it in half and adding a little sugar to one portion. I was improvising, here, because I had forgotten that the actual shortcake recipe is slightly different than the one for biscuits. I patted out each section of dough and used different sized cutters to differentiate the ones for shortcake from the unsweetened biscuits. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to make a breakfast sandwich on a sweetened biscuit, but the first bite might be a little strange. Both sets came out well, though a little darker than I’d intended, due to an oven-timer-setting error.

She scrubbed and roughly chopped some potatoes and set them to boil. When they were tender, she drained the pot, added butter and sour creme, and “smashed” them with a potato masher.

“Should I do the lamb now?” she asked.

Ground lamb, cooked in a tiny amount of oil and spiced heavily with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and paprika, will be topped with toasted pine nuts and accompany a batch of hummus made from the chick peas that spent hours in slow cooker. Scooped with bits of pita or crackers or really good toast, it’s one of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes.

I said she should go ahead. The kitchen was so fragrant by this point that one more batch of something wouldn’t make me any more likely to swoon than I already was.  Besides, I was pretty sure that once we cooked the steak, the day’s cooking events would be all over. Better to delay gratification a little and finish our homework.

She cooked and drained the lamb, and set it aside to cool, but we decided to make the hummus another day. She went off to fold a load of laundry while I turned my attention to tonight’s dinner.

I heated the cast-iron skillet, adjusted the temperature of the still-warm oven to 325F, and removed the steak from its marinade. It wasn’t a huge steak, but it was too long to fit in the skillet.  She cut it in half using the chef’s knife she was still holding after washing; she washed the knife again–probably the sixth or seventh time it had been washed during the afternoon–then dried it and finally put it away. I seared the steak on both sides, then slid the skillet into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. And checked to be sure I had set it correctly.

While she folded a load of laundry, I got the chef’s knife again to trim a bunch of asparagus–then washed and dried it and put it away again again. The asparagus was wrapped, burrito-style, in a moist paper towel, and microwaved for a minute. We reserved a quarter-cup of the marinade when putting the steak in the rest of it; this reserved portion went into a skillet to reduce and be fortified with a bit of butter. While the sauce-to-be did its thing, I washed, hulled, and sliced some strawberries–using a paring knife for a change–and sprinkled them with a little sugar and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

Halving the steak had a side benefit: I could cook the halves to different temperatures.  The rare side came out and was tented with foil to rest while the rest stayed in the oven for another few minutes. When the second half came out and began its rest, I stirred the pan juices from the steak into the sauce, wiped the skillet and used it to slightly brown the par-cooked asparagus.

It was, at long last, dinner time, and the first time either of us sat down in many hours. We had juicy, spicy sliced steak, a mound of smashed potatoes, a lineup of intensely green asparagus spears. And the makings for lunches and quick dinners for days to come.

We enjoyed a little Sunday evening television, pausing during what would have been a commercial break save that we watched streaming video rather than broadcast TV for dessert assembly and kitchen tidying.

Late nights of work and rehearsal, takeout food, and exhaustion had left us a little dietarily grumpy last week. We had resolved that this week would be better, and Sunday was the foundation on which that resolution would stand. We didn’t end up listening to the audiobook she’d suggested. I’m sure there are plenty of things we didn’t get done, but we also didn’t cook so much food that anything is likely to go to waste. Even if we weren’t completely ready to face every challenge the week might present, we were well-fed, and we had spent the day in each other’s company. The snow might have stopped falling by this point.  We didn’t look.

All the Things

All the things: (Back row) Sausage and kale soup, chickpeas, spiced lamb, shortbread and biscuits. (Front) London Broil (rare and well-done), steak sauce, smashed potatoes, pan-grilled asparagus, whipped cream, macerated strawberries.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert. All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert.
All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

When Delays, Doubles, and Failed Plans are Just Right

Things don’t always go as planned.

Boxes are unpacked right away, but then piles of indecision clutter the surfaces. Items are carefully re-boxed and placed for the local thrift store to collect, but then they don’t want your extra sofa after all. Contract painters show up four days early and do a lovely job, creating an unexpected construction zone for weekend entertaining.

He was a saint on Friday night, when the long hours, longer commutes, and lack of order finally took their toll on my good humour. The unplanned meltdown was ugly. The picking up and going on was beautiful – suffice it to say that the bedroom, guest room, and living room are all finally pleasant spaces to relax in.

On Saturday afternoon, we put together a stew for our guests – friends stopping over with us on the sad occasion of traveling to a funeral. Comfort food seemed called for.

A three-pound rump roast was cubed, dredged in flour, and seared. A trio of red onions were diced and cooked in the half-drained drippings, collecting the flavorful leavings and warming their bite. A few ribs of celery, a handful of carrots, and a minced bell pepper were added then the beef was tossed on top.  Seasoned liberally with oregano and bay leaf, with two dozen whole peppercorns thrown in for good measure. A palmful of kosher salt. Half a bottle of dry red wine.

(He drank a glass, proclaiming it “good” and “very dry”. I can’t stand the stuff; I take my grapes in a sugary cocktail, thanks.) Four cups of well seasoned mushroom stock were poured over all, then the lid went on and the Dutch oven went into the actual oven while we got back to work.

Six hours later, the beef was tasty but the broth was inconsistent in appearance and flavor. We set the oven to “warm” and left the pot alone overnight.

By Sunday morning, the meat and vegetables were fabulous, but the broth was still a mess – so I set out to repair it.

Solids were scooped from the first Dutch oven, drained, and placed into a second one. The liquid was painstakingly ladled into his grandmother’s gravy strainer, one cup at a time, and left to rest for twelve minutes.

When the oily bits had risen to the surface, every speck of fat was discarded and the good stuff was saved into a saucepan. Two hours later, with “the good stuff” fully assembled, the now fat-free broth was brought to a low simmer and thickened with corn starch – then poured over the meat and vegetable bits. The whole lot was brought back to temperature, covered, then placed back in the 200 degree oven to stay happy until our (delayed) guests arrived.

When they did, baked red potatoes were roughly chopped and placed into shallow bowls. Stew was ladled over top. Seconds were served, along with still and sparkling wines, ginger ales, and plenty of ice cream at dessert.

It couldn’t have been better if it had gone according to plan; there aren’t any leftovers to photograph.

Sometimes doubles aren't awful.

I’m glad to have kept both Dutch Ovens – one enameled, one not.

This Dinner Brought to You by iMessage

There are dinners you plan weeks in advance, snuggled on a sofa with cookbooks all around and steaming mugs of tea nearby.  (I’m pretty sure there are such dinners, anyway; the nearest we’ve had have been conversations about Christmas and Easter meals, although I don’t remember the steaming mugs of tea, and in our case “cookbooks all around” means searching on Epicurious.)

There are dinners you plan by opening the fridge and hoping not to find new cultures of penicillin.

Most days, dinner is somewhere in between.

On Monday morning, I received an iMessage:

Car unloaded.

(She had made a trip to the storage unit to retrieve some items from a “miscellaneous” box that should have come into the house.)

Also, dinner sourced.

Oh? I replied.

Tomato and mozzarella sandwiches on bagels. With whatever other veggies we have.

After a successful workday, several hours of unpack-and-sort (cleaning products, hats and gloves were the day’s projects), and guest-room-tidying in preparation for a visit from her dad, it was dinnertime.

Lightly toasted asiago bagels were spread with a molecule-thin layer of mayo, layered with thick slices of ridiculously good tomato from the CSA and dairy-fresh mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a few fried basil leaves, and served open-faced alongside sautéed green beans.

It’s not the sort of thing I grew up eating. I didn’t like uncooked tomato until college, and the only cheese I knew was square, pre-sliced, and wrapped in plastic. It’s a fine and glorious thing to discover things you thought you didn’t like.

Tomato and cheese sandwiches. Who knew?

Yum.

* * *

(No photos last night, particularly not of the leftover burger I offered my breakfast-and-lunch-skipping dinner companion as a protein boost alongside the bagel. It was, as predicted, considerably past well-done. Instead, here’s one of the planned-well-in-advance boeuf bourginnone she prepared for Christmas dinner last year.)

Boeuf