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Protein, fiber, fruit!!

I’m not getting enough fruits and vegetables every day.  This is just a fact.  So I’m attempting to get a serving of fruit or veggies in with my breakfast, which is usually just carbs – cereal, or toast with peanut butter. Protein, yes.  Fruits, no.

I started mixing Fage yogurt (discovered in Greece, now obsessed) with blueberries & honey but realized I was missing out on fiber.  Blueberries have a lot of fiber for their size and texture, but I wanted a bigger punch in the morning.  Gotta get in 25 grams a day, so I gotta start strong!

I checked out the breakfast section of Trader Joe’s and found roasted flax seeds – I bought an enormous bag of flax seeds for under $4 and put two tablespoons in my yogurt this morning.  4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, plus Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are apparently really important for the body and our body cannot make them – so we must eat them!  I first discovered flax seeds in a multi-grain corn chip and they are really delicious – nutty, sort of like sesame seeds but… heartier, I want to say.  (I’m gonna get better at describing flavors, I promise.)  I’m very glad they are now living in my refrigerator.

As an addition to my yogurt, I consider them a BIG win.  I would actually say they brightened my yogurt, which isn’t usually a word I would use for seeds.  But where yogurt and blueberries can have very flat flavors, flax seed’s roasty flavor and crunch raised the game.  Healthy and delicious – now we’re talking, people.

I would have thought Flax Seeds would be very expensive, but not at my dear Trader Joe’s.  Seriously, have you not tried TJ’s yet?  What are you waiting for?  Unbelievable prices, interesting products, and they treat their employees so well that everyone who works there is going to make you smile.  You know you want that.

 

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Summertime! Roasted Herbes de Provence Tomatoes

Y’all, it’s officially summer and with that comes so many beauteous realities: warm weather, summer vacations, holidays galore, and as much sunlight as you could ever possibly want.  But, probably most importantly, it means summer produce.20140629_185400

For me, my absolute favorite summer jewel at the farmer’s market is the tomato.  Coming at you in all different sizes, varieties and colors, your possibilities are truly endless.

The tomato season varies by region, of course, but here in Washington, DC the tomato season starts in July and stretches until the end of September.  Of course, you can get tomatoes all year round, but I’ve found that once I tasted a tomato that was truly in season, it was hard to go back.  It’s not that they’re bad in autumn, winter or spring, just… bland.  They don’t really add anything to the party.  Smaller varieties like cherry tomatoes still have great flavor in the cooler months and are a great alternative.  (Bonus: explode your brain with this genius way to cut cherry tomatoes all at one time!)20140629_195220

But today I’m talking about big, beefy beauties in all their glory.  The tomatoes featured in this post are not necessarily at peak perfection: you can find bright-red lovelies in the store or at your farmers market just slightly later in the season, but I couldn’t help myself.  Farmers markets are a GREAT place to find tomato variety – grocery stores often feature the smaller kinds and vine-ripened tomatoes, but the markets will have heirlooms, which vary in color and size and shape.  These can be really fun to play with and add unexpected colors to your favorite tomato recipes.

I’m obsessed with summer tomatoes and eat them as often as possible in this delectable season.  And raw is wonderful, but I love them best roasted.  Even the slightest bit of heat will bring out the complexities of a tomato’s flavor.  During the summer, I buy 10-12 tomatoes at the beginning of the week and roast two every single night I’m home.  And gobble them up all by myself – James hates tomatoes.  I don’t understand how that’s possible, but frankly, more tomatoes for me.20140629_194734

As I prepared to write this post, I realized that roasting tomatoes is incredibly easy, but there are a number of tips to keep in mind so that you can enjoy true tomato nirvana.

Head Amateur Tips for Roasting Tomatoes

Use the right tools:

When I cut tomatoes, it requires two knives: the paring and the serrated.  I know, as soon as I did it last night I thought to myself: UGH this will turn people off!  But I hope you don’t let it.  When you think about it, cleaning tomato juice off two knives takes about 60 seconds total. And it is worth it.

Use your paring knife to cut the core out of the tomato.  Just stab in by the core, about 2/3 of the way down, and work in a circular motion around the stem, tilting your knife into the center so that the removed core is a conical shape.  I usually need to remove the knife and then insert again to slice the bottom off the cone so it can be lifted from rest of the tomato.20140629_18545620140629_185410

Then use your serrated knife to cut the rest of the tomato.  The tomato’s skin is unique – it’s just tough enough to be difficult for a chef’s knife unless you have a super-quality, super-sharp chef’s knife.  I do not.  Cut your slices THICK – a regular-sized tomato yields about 4 thick slices.20140629_18550420140629_185536

Season well:

My preferred seasonings, the ones I use every single night, follow:

  • Herbes de provence
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Roasted garlic olive oil

Herbes de provence is a mix of a hella ton of different dried herbs that are indigenous to the Provence region of France.  The mix is exquisite and will transport you right to the Mediterranean coast, elevating every dish it touches.  The key, I think, is that the blend includes lavender, which lends the most distinct flavor.  It’s perfect mixed into breading for chicken, seasoning on steak, sprinkled on popcorn and, of course, melding with the glory of tomatoes for a heavenly dish.  20140701_175213

The mix is a bit more expensive than other herbs at the grocery store (by $1 or $2) but it’s so versatile, it is absolutely worth it.  I buy mine in bulk at Penzey’s Spices and it lasts me for months.20140701_175001

Herbes de provence loves garlic and will show off its peak flavors when “blossomed” in a little fat.  For instance, when adding to popcorn, heat up your butter or olive oil on the stove and add the herbes de provence for 2-3 minutes.  The flavors will sing!  When adding to the tomatoes, I rub the herbs between my fingers as I sprinkle.  The rubbing can release oils in the dried herbs and makes them more flavorful.

Coarse sea salt – I don’t know why, but I think that coarse sea salt has a different flavor than fine sea salt.  It’s a little brinier, more akin to the sea.  The coarseness also adds a tiny crunch.20140701_174920

Freshly ground pepper: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: pre-ground pepper is great, I’ve used it for years and I still use it occasionally, but the fresh ground pepper opens up the oils in the peppercorn for an entirely different flavor.  I can’t live without it now.20140701_174851

Garlic-flavored olive oil pro tip – don’t get botulism:

For years, I was making my garlic oil at home.  You take a head of garlic, de-skin the cloves and cook them very slowly (starting with cold extra-virgin olive oil on low heat) for about 20-30 minutes or until the cloves are the loveliest golden-brown.  I’d eat the garlic cloves with a little salt and pepper – exquisite.  Then I’d store the oil in a plastic container at room temperature.

I stopped this practice when I didn’t have my own kitchen for a few years (it does make your house smell like garlic, which I love, but apparently not everyone does), and about a year ago I tried it again.  For whatever reason, I decided to store it in the refrigerator.  When I looked at it next, the oil had thick white growths in it, which looked rather threatening.  I looked it up and, lo and behold, the bacteria spores that cause botulism can occur and thrive in garlic oil – the less oxygen, the better for them.  Geez – who knew something as simple and delightful as garlic oil could be that dangerous?  I mean honestly – BOTULISM?  I had been afraid my oil had spoiled, I was never expecting that!

(Apparently the chances of actually harboring botulinum spores in your oil are quite rare, but it freaked me out enough never to try it again.  Here’s a pretty helpful article that shows ways to make oil at home with the proper precautions.)

So, I buy my flavored oils now, if I’m not going to use my homemade garlic oil at once.  I like to buy flavored oils and vinegars in a small store called Olio and asked them why I got the weird growths in my oil – and why it doesn’t happen with their oils.  They said their oils are flavored with a complex centrifuge process, so that no pieces of the garlic are actually in the oil when it’s bottled for you to buy in the store.  You can also buy garlic oil in grocery stores pretty readily, but I’ve found the oils at this specialty store more delicious.  There are lots of these Olive Oil Tasting Stores near urban areas – Alexandria, VA has two!

With tomatoes in mind, you can also use garlic powder or garlic pieces, but garlic burns easily and I don’t like to risk it: garlic-flavored oil for me, all the way.

Slow and steady wins the race:

Roasted tomatoes take a surprisingly long time.  That’s why when it’s tomato season, I start my tomatoes as soon as I come in the door: shoes off, oven on.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF, cut and season your tomatoes and get them in the oven.  The tomatoes take about 45-55 minutes to roast to perfection.20140701_18025920140701_18542620140701_185431

I know – it’s a long time.  But the taste – OH THE TASTE – makes all your waiting worth it.  I recommend trying this recipe when you have a day off and can accomplish other things while the tomatoes roast.

I usually end up eating my tomatoes after I’ve eaten the rest of my dinner and it’s the perfect ending.  You’ll notice that parts of the tomatoes have been become black – the black part is actually caramelization and may be the most delicious part.20140629_195751

I like to roast the tomatoes in a non-stick pan with a very good coating (not covered in aluminum foil) to savor all the juices and each blackened bit, which can often get caught in the ridges of the foil.  The very good coating is for ease of cleaning – just a quick wipe with a soapy sponge is all it takes.

The uglier, the better:

We, as humans, are drawn to beautiful things and tend to shrink away from produce that looks wrinkled or with unfamiliar blemishes.  With tomatoes, however, embrace the ugly.  Vine-ripened tomatoes will not necessarily be beautiful, shiny spheres, but can have strange lumps and hardened beige scales.  Heirloom tomatoes can take on 3 colors in one fruit and be so lumpy they look alien.  Fear not!  The stranger they look, the riper and more flavorful within.

Ugly tomatoes courtesy of cc-calendula.blogspot.com
Ugly tomatoes courtesy of cc-calendula.blogspot.com
SANTA SWEETS UGLY TOMATO
Courtesy of yumsugar.com

 

Piled high on a plate, the tomatoes will release delectable juices as they cool.  Sop these up with a piece of foccacia or sourdough – or lick them right off the plate.  No judgement coming from here.20140629_19515320140629_201815

At the very least, I encourage you to go enjoy tomatoes in any way this glorious season.  It’s almost like discovering these versatile little fruits all over again.  Bon appéit, mes chéris!20140629_195200

“Reenie Cake”

I do not like birthday cake.  That light, sponge-like cake that comes in a sheet pan and is decorated beautifully, served at birthdays, served at weddings, served at retirement parties – eh.  It’s not just for me.  I usually decline, much to the HORROR of everyone around me, as if I am making some kind of silent protest or judging them for having cake at 3:00pm.  Yo, I’d dig in, too, if it were something worth the calories.  I feel similarly about cupcakes, even though they do tempt me more often with their creative flavors.  But no – too light, too airy, gone too quickly.

I like a cake that makes you work for it, one that satisfies you completely when it’s done.  A cake that requires a break before complete consumption.

This is because my mother spoiled me (unintentionally) as a child – my whole family, really – by making us Reenie Cake for every single birthday.  When your immediate family is 6 people, that means you get to eat Reenie Cake 6 times a year.  Then you branch out into the extended family (Mom was one of 9 children), because the cake was famous by this point and requested for all types of occasions, and you’ve got Reenie Cake throughout the year.  You are eating tons of Reenie Cake.20140406_145957

My Mom would want me to tell you that the recipe was NOT her own – she got it from someone else, made the cake, and rest was history.  It was demanded to be the only cake we would eat and would be known as Reenie Cake from that point forward.  Sorry Mom and sorry person who gave Mom that recipe – that’s just the way it goes.20140406_145951

So what IS this magical Reenie Cake you must be asking yourself? Truly – it is pound cake.  Simple pound cake, actually.  But, treated as a birthday cake by my mother, it was always frosted.  Frosted pound cake.  Yeah, wrap your head around that for a second.  You see why I never could get behind birthday cake after that?

My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie's miraculous creations.
My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie’s miraculous creations.

We haven’t had many visitors since we moved to DC, so when James’ parents were coming to visit a few months ago, I lost my MIND and decided the apartment must be spotless and that I needed to bake something.  James tried to stop me – he even told his parents so THEY could assure me it wasn’t necessary – but it was useless.  For some reason I decided I needed to get all Leave it to Beaver and have a fresh baked good for his parents.20140406_150102

Around that time, I had made the Buttermilk Brined Chicken and needed to use up more of that leftover buttermilk.  I was also in a very bad place emotionally, really missing my Mom and longing for some kind of connection to her.  Then I realized – I’d never attempted to make Reenie Cake before.  What a perfect solution – and a way to connect with my Mom in a way I never had when she was alive.

Just reading my mother’s instructions was satisfying: she had a way of writing exactly as she spoke and her enthusiasm and honesty simultaneously tugged at my heart strings and cracked me up.  A perfect example is how she tried to tell my sister-in-law how to make the famous frosting: “I used 4 tablespoons of butter (fat kind) and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, approx. 1/3 cup of milk, and 3 – 3 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar.  I just add the sugar and milk til it’s the right spreading consistency.  It should have also had 1 tsp. of vanilla, but I forgot to add it!”  Oh, how I miss her.

The experience of making her cake was strongly cathartic in a way I really didn’t expect.  I thought it would be nice, I’d remember her, I’d have yummy cake.  But the act of putting these ingredients together in this exact way brought up really powerful emotions.  When the batter started to come together, I jumped up and down in the kitchen proclaiming to James “It’s Reenie Cake!  It’s Reenie Cake!”  I have so many memories of my mother standing at the kitchen counter mixing together this cake and the pure childlike excitement (that, thank god, I never lost) of getting to lick those beaters and eat Reenie Cake came flooding back.  Even as health-conscious as she was, she could not resist offering us the beaters: she never could resist making anyone happy.  I can picture the look on her face, which was a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction.  The look in her eyes said “oh you’re such a weirdo for getting this excited about batter”, yet her smile hid nothing: she loved to make this weirdo excited.20140404_190241

In such a “Reenie” way, she never wanted Reenie Cake for her own birthday.  As long as I can remember, my Mom always requested Jewish Apple Cake… from the grocery store.  Every year, that’s what she wanted, which became a tradition on its own, and quite easy to accomplish because apples are perfectly in season during my mother’s birthday on October 23rd.  My sister-in-law, baker extraordinaire, had made the cake for her from scratch the last few years.  Below, you can see Mom admiring that masterpiece on the last of her birthdays we’d celebrate together.  I think I know what I’ll be doing to commemorate her this October 23rd.IMAG0510

Alas, when I attempted Reenie Cake, I did not frost mine.  There was not the time.  But now you have my Mom’s recipe above!  I made a vanilla glaze with confectioners sugar and milk (milk, I’ve found, tends to harden faster than ones made with water or lemon juice.)  But even without the frosting, it is a decadent, sumptuous treat that somehow seems as if it’s appropriate for breakfast…

So how can you, too, enjoy this jumping-up-and-down cake bliss?  I’m glad you asked!

“Reenie Cake”

Note 1: I should tell you that, although this is my third (and last) post in my series on buttermilk, Reenie Cake wasn’t made with buttermilk when Reenie would make it.  She’d make it with regular milk and lemon juice.  But I needed to use up the buttermilk, so that’s the only thing I changed about the recipe.  The cake tastes very much the same as I remember.

Note 2: The directions for this cake don’t exactly follow the rules I know about baking.  Yet, I went ahead and made the cake exactly as described and it turned out perfectly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure: (full instructions here, with pictures below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.)
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)

Procedure with Pictures

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan (I used the flat pan, not the kind with the decorative edges, as in traditional for Reenie Cake.)20140404_183347
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes20140404_18525220140404_185648
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next20140404_190003
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next20140404_185705
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined20140404_190225
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.20140404_191417 20140404_191508
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)20140404_204247
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.) 20140404_211119
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)20140406_150003 20140406_150058

Time to talk buttermilk: Buttermilk-brined and Baked Chicken

It’s time to talk about buttermilk.

One of my favorite ingredients which imparts tangy flavor and silky texture, is relatively easy to find, and actually low-fat.  What’s not to love?

The buttermilk that I buy in the grocery store, the one most of us living in the northern USA are familiar with today, is a cultured buttermilk, made with low-fat milk and lactic acids, and containing good-for-you bacteria which aids digestion (like yogurt.)  True buttermilk is very hard to find in a store – usually only found at dairy farms, it is the by-product of churning cream into butter.  (For true nerds and baking enthusiasts, you may find this history of buttermilk courtesy of Slate.com interesting.  Thanks, Slate!)  I wouldn’t recommend drinking it by itself, but as an ingredient, buttermilk is rather versatile.  You’ll find it mostly in baked goods, and I’ve made my share, but my favorite recipe using buttermilk is actually a breaded and baked chicken recipe.

Adapted from a Bon Appetit article I read years ago, I’ve created a low-fat breaded chicken recipe that you can prepare mostly overnight, for a quick week-day dinner.  And it’s a recipe that I think about all day, one I can’t wait to get home to.  The breading is so flavorful and complex, it’s like the best shake and bake you ever had.  No – better.  And the usual flour-egg-breading process isn’t necessary, because the buttermilk brine is viscous enough to stick to the wet, raw chicken breasts AND cling to the breading.  (Ooh, or maybe the dijon mustard in the brine actually emulsifies it and gives it that eggy quality – I just thought of that right now!)

And the best part – the recipe doesn’t call for nearly all the buttermilk you bought (it usually comes in quart-sized containers), so you’ve got leftovers for all the carby baked goods you want to try.  A crave-inducing low-fat recipe that gives you an excuse to make super indulgent baked goods – now who ever said I didn’t treat you right?

Buttermilk Brined Baked Chicken

Marinade:

  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 TBL dijon mustard
  • 1 TBL olive oil
  • 1 TBL lemon juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed (check out my technique below, which avoids cleaning the garlic press.)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless, thinly sliced chicken breasts (Bought these at Trader Joe’s and I’m not looking back.)20140406_152930

Breading:

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs (aka Japanese style, a drier, more crunchy form of bread crumb, pretty readily available in grocery stores – try the Asian aisle)
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 3 TBL flour
  • 1/2 TBL dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp lemon zest (zest the lemon used for juice in the marinade before juicing, it will be much easier)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you don’t own this yet, buy some for this recipe and thank me later.   A myriad of applications are now open to you!)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

The Process

  1. Measure out the wet ingredients in the marinade and mix together in a bowl, so that mustard is incorporated.  
  2. To press the garlic, you can use a garlic press.  If you don’t have one (or hate washing yours, like me), you can sprinkle some salt over your minced clove and press it by hand with a knife.
20140406_153925
Minced garlic
Sprinkled with Salt
Sprinkled with Salt
20140406_153955
Press down with the flat of your knife and drag across the cutting board

20140406_15400820140406_1540283.  When marinade is mixed, add your chicken (in a gallon Ziploc bag, or in flat dish with sides, like this 9×9″ baking dish I used – nonstick and very easy to clean) and coat thoroughly.  Cover and marinate overnight. 20140406_154402

4.  If I’m prepping the dish the night before, I like to assemble the breading at this time, too.  As long as I’m doing dishes… this makes next day assembly super fast.  Just mix all ingredients in an air-tight plastic container and slap its lid on – done and done.  You can bread the chicken right in the container – just be sure to pick one with enough space, 2-3 times the surface area of the chicken breast.

5. The next day, heat your oven to 450ºF.  Place a cooling rack inside (or on top of) a half-sheet pan (18″x13″) – you can line the pan with foil for easy clean-up.   The cooling rack will keep the chicken elevated so it’s crispy on top and bottom.

6. Take your marinated chicken out and place the marinated chicken and breading right next to the pan, for easy transfer.  Bread the chicken as thoroughly as possible in that delicious, delicious coating.  Transfer to the rack.20140406_180629 20140406_180638 20140406_180704

7. Carefully put your chicken in the oven for 20 minutes.  The rack-on-pan can be a little unwieldy when being carried.

8.  When the baking time is over, take care when transferring chicken to your plate – you’ll see below that I scraped a little breading off with my tongs.  You may want to wait a few minutes before transferring (if you can bear to wait any longer), or gently transfer with a spatula or even your dining utensils.

9. Enjoy some badass breaded chicken.

20140406_18420520140406_184153

 

Red Meat Days

Over this past year, I’ve been thinking a lot more about making healthier choices.  But as someone who loves to eat (and loves to eat poorly) as much as I do, this is daunting task.  James and I decided to start small.  We love to eat and we love to eat meat – but there’s been enough studies that an abundance, shall we say, of red meat in your diet can lead to disease.  Therefore, we decided that we should try to cut back.  And the only way we thought we could stick with it was to make a hard, measurable rule: eat red meat only twice a month.
Red meat, by the way, has been defined by most nutritionists currently as “meat from any mammal.”  So it’s not just beef: it’s bison, it’s lamb, and saddest of all, it’s pork.  Perhaps, like me, you thought that pork was “the other white meat.”  Apparently, this is merely very excellent marketing by pork industry lobbyists.  Don’t get me wrong, there are cuts of pork that can be very lean, but at this moment in nutrition history pork is lumped together with beef as a red meat.
I mentioned that we really love meat in our house – and that’s how “red meat days” came about.  Instead of only eating red meat in two meals per month, we started to declare when we would take a “red meat day” and then try to fit in as much red meat as possible during those 24-hours.  We are… realizing that that’s sort of defeating the purpose and are trying to cut back on that trend as well.
However, we’ve made some really great discoveries with this experiment.  And the most obvious one is how much red meat we eat in this country – especially at restaurants.  James and I go out to eat a lot, it’s basically one of my favorite activities besides cooking in my own kitchen.  I love to be inspired by menus, I love a nice ambiance, great service – I love the whole experience.  But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I can’t eat cheese.  And now I can’t eat red meat.  And holy crap, does that narrow down your choices!  The number of dishes that come with bacon alone are astonishing once you’ve limited the number of times you can eat it.
What’s also amazing is, although James is a great lover of bacon, we hardly ever eat it anymore.  Because when we eat red meat, we make it count.  It’s almost always steak.This Valentine’s Day, like last Valentine’s Day, we decided to stay home and make some delicious steaks.  We go out to dinner so often (probably too often) that it isn’t worth it to go out on Valentine’s Day.  They jack up the prices like crazy on this holiday, so why waste the money for the same food we could eat on another night?  No, damn the man.

Last year, I looked up a process to make the most delicious, crusty steak on your stovetop and in a pan, because my apartment is not grill-friendly.  I found the instructions on Serious Eats (a fantastic food website filled with both great instruction and foodie whimsy which I recommend).  This recipe comes from The Food Lab, when one of their writers heads into his tiny New York City home kitchen to test recipes and procedures ad nauseum until he’s figured out how the home cook can achieve great results in their own home kitchen.  Seriously cool. 🙂  There’s a lot of interesting little tips in this process, and I encourage you to read it, but below I detail the ones that I found most important and took to heart.

The number one intriguing tip is the suggestion that you flip your steak every 15 seconds.  I’d always heard that for the perfect sear you 1) get your oiled pan super-freakin’-hot, 2) slap your meat down and 3) DON’T MOVE IT.  You can test it after a few minutes and when the steak can be easily removed from the pan, that’s when you flip.  But this “15-second rule”, if you will, cooks your steak quickly and still achieves that crusty yum we all want.

(I want to admit that this was the first time we started taking pictures for the blog and so the 15-second-rule was kinda hard to capture.  We didn’t always achieve 15-seconds -often more like 30 – and I did overcook the steak more than I would have liked.  It was still good, though!  I recommend taking the steak’s temperature often so you can create the doneness you desire.)

Point 1: Choosing your steaks.
When I went to my local Trader Joe’s (the best prices on pretty much anything), I had four choices for a steak that was going to be the star of our meal: Filet mignon (often marked as Tenderloin), Sirloin, New York Strip and Ribeye.
From most to least expensive…
Filet  – I’d never attempted this cut before – actually a very lean cut of beef, yet very tender – and also the most expensive.
Ribeye – more expensive and highly marbled (those white lines of fat.)  My personal opinion is that the steak is too fatty for the cost – I don’t actually enjoy all that fat.
***New York Strip – This is the one we used and for me, the sweet spot.  Plenty of marbling and a price point (these were about $10 per steak) that I can get behind for a special dinner.
Sirloin – the least expensive and rather lean, but I find that it can be tough.

New York Strip - ooh, pretty.
New York Strip – ooh, pretty.


You also want your steak to be between 1″ – 2″ thick.  I think, for this application, I might have had more success with a thicker steak: it would have given me more time to create a crust yet not cook the inside so much.  You can see here that my steaks are 1″ thick.

Red Meat Days

Point 2: Season those suckers good:

Serious Eats suggests that you season your steaks more than you think you need.  I used kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Freshly ground black pepper changed my life.  Cracking your pepper immediately before adding it to your food releases the oils in the peppercorn, making it more flavorful and offering more bite.

Seasoned on one side on the plate
Seasoned on one side on the plate

I like to season my steak on one side, add that seasoned side to the hot pan, then season the other side in the pan.  That way you don’t lose as much seasoning in the transfer.

Red Meat Days

Point 3: 15-second-rule
This was the most interesting suggestion to me – one I had never heard before.  Flip your steaks every 15 seconds and take the temperature of the steaks as often as possible for proper doneness.  We like medium rate and 130 degrees is the target mark for such a meaty center.  (You can see the different temperatures for the different levels one doneness in the Serious Eats link above.)  You’ll want to cook your steak to about 120-125 degrees, because the carry-over heat will continue to cook the meat when it’s removed from the heat source.  I show the progression of my steaks below.

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(You’ll see that butter was added to the pan and basted onto the steaks.  This was suggested, but I wasn’t a big fan of the result.  The idea is that the fat, an excellent conductor of heat, would get the the steaks crusty in places where the pan couldn’t touch, but I thought the addition of fat was overkill, and took away from the flavor of the steak itself.  Just my two cents, though.  I know most professional chefs add butter to their steaks at the end.)
The verdict: I still think that the easiest way to sear a steak is to get your pan hot and flip once.  There’s NO doubt that the 15-second flip is fastest way, but it’s just too much work, in my opinion.
The best lesson to learn here is to take the temperature of your steak often.  That will ensure the doneness you desire.
There you have it!  Know that you can have a delicious steak at home and it doesn’t have to be on the grill.  For the home cook you can have it fast with a few simple guidelines in mind.
Have you made steak in a pan at home?  Have any tips, questions, comments, concerns?  Hit me up in the comments.
Red Meat Days
An intimate dinner at home with Trader Joe’s potato latkes and arugula salad.
2 Comments:
  1. Is that a cast-iron skillet? I was in the mood for steak the other weekend, but our grill and deck were still buried under snow. I looked online and found Alton Brown’s tips for pan-searing a steak. But you need a cast-iron skillet, which I didn’t have. Ended up having something else for dinner. And so this past weekend, I bought a 10.25″ and a 8″ cast-iron skillets. And then a cast-iron dutch oven. So now I can try making steak!

    Thanks for the tips about the different cuts. One of the reasons I almost never make steak is that I’m always at a loss when I get to the supermarket as to what to buy. I did at one time put a note in my shopping list of “ribeye, T-bone, or porterhouse” but that doesn’t mean I’ll always find those, or know how to choose between them.

  2. nomnomnomnom.