Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You can make this steak. Yes, YOU.

Confession: I struggle with cooking a good steak. And it bothers me.

I can make tender, flaky pie crust, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles, savory risotto, even moist pork chops...but a STEAK? Fuhgeddaboutit.

And what bugs me is that it's soooo much cheaper to make a steak dinner for TWO at home than one early bird special at the local steakhouse.

Twenty-odd years of cooking experience, and I'm still inept. SIGH.

THAT was until the day before Valentine's Day. Friday the thirteenth.

(Honestly, I'm not superstitious, but Murphy's law seems to visit my kitchen on special days. I'm still not ready to tell you all the story of our first Christmas Eve dinner as husband and wife...)

What made that Friday night so different? Well, since you asked...

I found a FOOLPROOF recipe for cooking a steak. Actually, I found three recipes. But I found only one for the PERFECT Valentine's steak dinner for my husband and me. You see, I like my steak medium-rare to medium. Hubby likes his medium WELL. So to cook something like big like a Pioneer Woman V-day ribeye or Ina's ribeye with bearnaise sauce--something I would have to split between the two of us--can cause some issues.

And when I'm cooking for my mother-in-law, I just avoid cooking certain things--because she likes her meat WELL DONE. Always. NO exceptions.

She's a wonderful, caring person and a good cook--HONESTLY. Me? I'm just too persnickety about certain cuts of lamb and beef.

But I digress.

If you wanted to cook certain cuts of beef--say, like filet mignon--well done and didn't want to dry it out, you could use this recipe and just adjust the oven cooking time.

But if you want to invite me over for dinner and you make a steak that isn't cooked medium rare, I'll still eat it. No pressure. It's not like I'm steak connoisseur. Plus, my mama taught me to clean my plate and to be a good guest.

Where were we? Ah, yes, cooking a steak.

In our steak cooking session, we have...

Butter, salt, pepper, vegetable oil...

And two 6-ounce steaks. Mignon, honey. Filet Mignon. The real thing. (Well, what you can get from a regular supermarket. I can't afford dry-aged or restaurant-quality stuff...or fresh from the cattle ranch stuff.)

Now, turn the oven temperature to 400 degrees and let it heat up. While it's getting up to temp, let's take a closer look at our filets, shall we?


It's worth the extra money. All that marbling makes for dee-licious beef.

Put an iron skillet on the stovetop and set your burner for just above medium.

(I took the foolproof recipe and modified it slightly for my use. First, I knew that the 10-ounce steaks called for in the recipe would be too much for us. Also, many reviewers stated that certain changes would make for easier cleanup. And I'm all for easier cleanup.)

Let your pan warm up for 3-5 minutes. If it starts to smoke, lower the temperature, take it off the burner. After a few minutes, return the pan to its burner.

No cast iron skillet? Well, you can improvise as one recipe reviewer did and use a non-stick for the stove top cooking and a cookie sheet for the oven cooking.

While the pan is heating, take our dynamic duo, salt 'n pepa...

And sprinkle them onto both sides of each filet. (Another modification. I find that rolling the steaks in salt 'n pepa would overpower the steak.)

Rub the seasoning into the steaks so the meat starts to get more flava flav!

(Are you catching all of the '90's music references? There will be a quiz later.)

Next, coat ALL sides of the filets with vegetable oil...

And rub in thoroughly, edges and all. favorite part...

STEAK IN THE PAN! (Can you hear it sizzling, professor?)

Now, this is where you NEED to follow the recipe. Don't move the steaks for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Set your timer and WAIT.

Okay--time's up. Flip your filets and marvel at the browning action....

Do you see the wisps of smoke? That's all you need. No hotter-than-blazes skillet required. Just a pan heated to (a tad above) medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Give or take.

Here's another shot of browning deliciousness.

You're also going to brown the edges. So after your two minute timer goes off again, flip the steaks on their side and continue to brown for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each edge until all of the edges are seared.


Now, while you're waiting for the edges to get delicious, take a stick of butter...

And slice two tablespoons off--one for each filet.

Top each filet with a slice of some butter love...

And place into your preheated 400 degree oven.

Now, how long the steaks stay in the oven depends on your desired doneness. I've noticed that after about 6-7 minutes, the steaks are at 125 degrees, perfect if you like them rare to medium rare. Since every oven is a bit different, insert a thermometer after 6-7 minutes and go from there. Click here for some information on how to determine doneness by internal temperature.

I checked my steaks at 7 minutes and they were at 125 degrees. Two to three minutes later, they were at 132 or so. Perfect for medium.

Now, remove the steaks from the oven and place them on a plate to rest. Resting your meat will allow some carryover cooking (which raises the internal temperature 5-10 degrees) and ensure that the meat retains its juicyness. Trust me. It works.

Tightly cover the steaks with aluminum foil. I put the dull side out so that the shiny side reflects heat back to the meat, keeping it warm. (I hear you laughing. Just try it and see.)

Now, while the meat is resting, you can finish setting the table, quickly saute a side vegetable, or lean against the counter and dream about your soon to be finished steak.

All right, time's up!



= "Dinner's ready, honey!"

Husband comes in (FIRST TIME I called!), grabs his plate, and sits down.

This the point when dearest hubby says, "Why are you taking pictures of FOOD all the time?"

Good question...

Too bad there's no leftovers.--bjh

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hospitality--Diner Style!

Just a little taste of hospitality--Connecticut diner style.

Enjoy! bjh

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Part 3: Making Chicken Salad

So, six weeks ago, after I wrote about poaching the chicken for my chicken salad, I made chicken salad.

Now I don't know what your chicken salad experience has been like; you may like the IDEA of chicken salad--chicken, delicious mayo dressing, crunchy bits of celery--but the REALITY of your experience may have fallen short.

Because, face it, sometimes chicken salad is...BLAH.

I'm hoping to remedy that.

So, as I start all photo recipes, here are the stars of our chicken salad experience:

Celery, red bell pepper, green onions, rosemary, parsley, lemon zest, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Oh, and let's not forget...

Two cups of shredded chicken. That's about one of my two brined and poached chicken breasts.

First, let's dice our crunchy veggies. First I slice a celery stalk lengthwise into 1/4 inch wide strips...
and then chop it into about a 1/4 inch pieces.

Using the same method, I now chop the red bell pepper into a 1/4 inch dice.

With the two green onions, I slice them (kind of) thinly and then chop them into smaller pieces.

Next, the rosemary. I like the taste of rosemary; if you want to use something else, go right ahead. It's your chicken salad. I've used tarragon and dill before as an alternative.

I stripped the rosemary leaves off their stalk (VERY necessary) and then chopped them semi-fine. I ended up with a tablespoon of chopped rosemary.

Next comes the parsley. I just pull off some of the parsley leaves and stems...

Roll them into a tight bundle...

And then chop through the bundle. Then I go back over the parsley until it's chopped to my liking.

Now for the lemon zest. If you want to use the dried lemon peel from a jar in your spice cabinet, go ahead. But there's something about fresh lemon zest that just wakes up the chicken salad.

There are a few methods to zest a lemon. I use a Microplane to get my zest; make sure to get ONLY the yellow skin. The white pith underneath is NOT chicken salad friendly.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl...

And stir until well mixed.

Now we have a chicken salad ready for dressing.

Now, making a mayonnaise salad dressing is SO EASY that I can't imagine buying it ready made off a grocery store shelf. Try it and see if you don't agree.

First, we need some mayonnaise...

I can't really tell you how much I used. If I had posted this six weeks ago, I would have remembered. But it's safe to say, if you make too much dressing, you can always use it as sandwich spread.

Add maybe a teaspoon of vinegar... (again, I'm trying to remember)

And 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon of the above seasonings. Again, add a little and then add more later if needed.

Stir to combine...

And then taste to adjust the seasoning. It should taste a little too strong by itself. Once combined with the chicken salad ingredients, it will all balance out. hands were clean and germ-free in this shot; I make a point of following ALL state food safety regulations, even in my own home. Well, at least for you all.

Add some of the dressing to the waiting chicken salad...

And stir until well mixed.

Add more of the dressing if needed. You can always add more dressing, but you can't take it out.

Eat on your favorite sandwich bread, scoop over a delicious green salad, or eat straight out of the bowl. Not that I do that or anything. Just a random thought--really.

Now I just wish I had a warm summer day to eat this cool, refreshing chicken salad...maybe I'll close my eyes and wish REALLY hard. bjh

A Relapse...

Ummm...Hi. Remember me?

Yes, it's been over a month since my last post. No, I haven't been without internet or electricity for that long. I've been...well...recovering from a relapse in...


My photos for this post did not include a picture of a finished chicken salad sandwich, one I could use to introduce the post. So...I decided to wait a bit until I made chicken salad again and THEN get a good shot.

Slight problem: I haven't made chicken salad since January 3rd.

And you already know what did (or didn't) happen to Part 3 of making chicken salad.

Ahh, the quandry of being a perfectionist.

Fortunately, I am in recovery and hope to not relapse least, not for as long. I'm too self-aware to be more optimistic.

So...My name is Nicole and I'm a perfectionist. But I'm NOT leaving this computer until Part 3 is posted.

Promise. bjh