Thursday, January 19, 2012

Livin' la vida carnivore

It was a ridiculous amount of meat.

Over an inch thick and at least 7 inches wide, the T-bone steak was a splurge.  How much of a splurge?  Let's just say that Andrew Jackson had to get George Washington, plus a few other dead presidents, to talk this steak into coming home with me. 

But it was enough meat to share--generously--and I had been craving a tender, juicy, well-seasoned steak for several days.  And not being a regular consumer of red meat, I wanted this steak to be a bucket-list experience.

Now I can die peacefully.

Who doesn't get weak in the knees at the smell of beef fat searing?  That aroma is primordial and it wafts its way via my reptilian brain straight to my inner caveman--the one the used to eat a lot of meat.  The sound of the sizzle and pop when a well-marbled steak is near the flame means that everything is right in the world and that I will soon be eating something that speaks to my primal instincts but yet appeals to my need for beautiful, visually-pleasing food as well.  The gorgeous sheen of a well-caramelized piece of meat, studded with garlic, cracked black pepper, kosher salt and drizzled with a little EVOO--or better yet, adorned with a huge pat of good butter--makes me drool.  It's a classic, consistently good dinner.

So, after sectioning this bad boy into into a strip steak for me and a strip-steakless T-bone for my husband (because the poor man still likes his steaks cooked within an inch of their lives and I'm a slap-it-on-the-rump-and-send-it-out kind of girl), I seasoned both sides liberally with minced garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt.

A perfectly cooked steak is easy if you control the cooking temperature and are near enough to watch it closely.  This is especially important since, like me, you're probably also multi-tasking in the kitchen and want to reduce the risk of failure (and I'm the first to admit that I fail frequently).  But one more thing: I also wanted the taste of a perfectly cooked steak without the smokiness a grill imparts, and didn't think I could get a good enough sear on my flat-top electric range, so I chose to broil what was becoming a fairly significant culinary investment. 

I had also been dreaming of caramelized onions finished with a little port--what I have taken to calling "Portly Onions."  I had made some a few days ago and they were so delicious, sweet and so succulent that I wanted more with my steak.  I think they are so good, in fact, that I could eat them all by themselves.  For breakfast.  Well, maybe on some dense, hearty, heavily-buttered toast.  And possibly with some creamy scrambled eggs.

So then it became necessary to think about what I wanted to accompany my steak and Portly Onions.  And I didn't want a baked potato thing, or a mashed potato thing, or any kind of a starchy thing, but I knew my husband would.

This is where deception is bred and nurtured.  Right in my very own kitchen.  Right under my husband's nose.  I set about to deceive and seduce.  Yes, I did.

I have discovered that if I don't announce to my husband ahead of time, or even during his meal, what I have cooked or what ingredients have gone into what he is about to eat, that we both have an easier time of it.  Furthermore, he then eats his food with great relish and will likely say, "I don't know what was.  But I don't think I want to know."  Poor, poor, squeamish husband.

So I got a little sneaky.  I told a little bit of a white lie.  Literally.

I had a head of cauliflower.  Normally, I would cut it into florets, season it with cumin, garlic, salt, pepper and EVOO and roast it until it was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside.  Or saute it Indian-style with green chilies, black mustard and cumin.  Or cover it in my friend TXMama's curried cream sauce and bake it au gratin with parmesan and buttered bread crumbs.  But my husband is a meat-and-potatoes guy and I needed to pull a meat-and-potatoes caper.

It seems that mock mashed potatoes are all the rage now that Paleo, low-carb/no-carb and gluten-free diets have become very popular.  Steamed, mashed and seasoned like real mashed potatoes, cauliflower appears to be a reasonable facsimile of mashed potatoes:

My finished product, however, was a bit short of the mark: I got impatient and didn't dry the cauliflower after cooking as much as I could, so the texture was a little looser than I would have liked.  But the flavor was outstanding, and although my husband could tell he wasn't eating real mashed potatoes, he did eat.  All of it.  And guessed it was cauliflower.  And said he would eat it again.

The gig is up.

What's more: the steak(s) looked extremely beautimous all piled up on top of the mashed cauliflower.  Which was exactly my goal.  You'll have to trust me that the plates were licked clean.  That is, if you can still trust me.

But I think the white lie was overlooked because my husband told me that his was the best steak he ever had--and perfectly cooked.  That is a compliment I don't often receive where cooking his steaks are concerned.

To accompany a meal with a lot of beef fat and butter fat, you need a red wine that is fairly acidic and fruity.  For my money, that means a Spanish rioja.  In particular, I was sampling Beso de Vino 2009 (Spain), an innocuous little wine that is inexpensive (less than $10) and a bit gimmicky.  However, it scored 90 points in a review in The Wine Advocate, so I thought I'd bring a bottle home.  It's a blend of syrah and garnacha and aged in oak for 3 months.  I thought it failed to produce the knit-together experience that I am looking for when drinking a wine all on its own, but the fruit--mostly cherry--the pleasant finish and especially the acid and tannin levels complemented the dinner very well.

After dinner, I sampled a glass of Block 612 Knights Valley Meritage 2009 (California), a lovely Bordeaux style wine with class and silkiness that made me think of cashmere and a nice, long ride home in a limosine.  This wine is well-balanced and well-priced (about $21) for its quality.  It has notes of plum and cassis in the mouth, chocolate and tobacco aromas and is very soft on the palate.  Excellent with Lindt chili-infused dark chocolate for dessert.

Here are the recipes:

Fat Daddy Steak with Portly Onions

Buy the best steak you can afford and enjoy it.  Tenderness and full flavor usually come at a higher price.  If you want to cook it "Philadelphia Blue" then start with a partially frozen steak.

1 large T-bone steak (about 2 lbs.)
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
minced garlic (I used Penzey's minced garlic because it is dried and it toasts as the steak cooks)

1.  Season steak generously with kosher salt, cracked pepper and minced garlic.  It should look like it has a crust of garlic on it.
2.  Let steak come to room temperature while you preheat the broiler and line a jellyroll pan with foil.
4.  Mist or spray steak with EVOO before broiling (make sure you put EVOO on the other side as well after turning).
3.  Broil 3" from heat; 3 minutes per side for rarish medium rare and 6 minutes per side for medium well.
4.  Serve immediately.  Serves one very hungry person or two hungry people, with leftovers.

Portly Onions

Slice one large sweet onion into slices about 1/4" thick.  Heat a little EVOO in a skillet over medium-high heat until rippling and add onion slices.  Saute until onions begin to caramelize.  Add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  When onions are browned and a bit limp, pour in at least 1/2 cup port.  Reduce liquid until onions are glossy and gorgeous.  Serve with steaks, hamburgers, in a grilled cheese sandwich, or just about anything that goes well with onions.

Imposter "Mashed Potatoes" with Brenta Stagionato Cheese and Garlic

Brenta Stagionato is a buttery, firm and nutty cheese that melts beautifully and harmonizes well with the cauliflower and garlic.  You can also roast the garlic, add fresh chopped rosemary or toasted shallots, stir in cooked crumbled bacon, or try different cheeses (such as Gruyere) to make endless variations.

1 medium head cauliflower
3 Tbs. butter, softened
2 Tbs. creme fraiche or cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup shredded Brenta Stagionato (or substitute Parmesan)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. chopped fresh or dry chives
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1.  Bring a pot of salted water to boil over high heat.
2.  Meanwhile, clean and cut cauliflower into small florets.
3.  Cook cauliflower in boiling water for about 6 minutes, or until well done.
4.  Drain well and set low heat to dry as thoroughly as possible.
5.  If necessary, pat cooked cauliflower very dry in a clean kitchen towel.
6.  Using either a handheld electric mixer, an immersion blender or a food processor, puree the hot cauliflower with the butter, creme fraiche, shredded cheese, salt and pepper until almost smooth.
7.  Stir in chives and parsley by hand and serve immediately.  Serves 2 generously.


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  2. Thank you for your kind words, Alicia. Hope not to disappoint you.

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