A good home-cooked steak

Steak is not something that I order when I splurge for a meal in a fine restaurant; it’s too easy to do at home and good for single-serving cooking since it’s portioned when it comes home, and it’s easy to cook.

A good thick-cut, home-cooked steak is one of the things that I don’t mind having left over, since it’s usable as “roast beef” for a yummy sandwich.  (No, the roast beef from the deli simply does not do it.) My favorite way to cook the steak is from Cook’s Illustrated, 01 May 2007–it does take a little time and minimal effort, but it’s well worth it.

steaks in butcher caseMy usual choice of steak is a strip, or New York strip, cut 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches thick, with fat cap intact.  If I don’t find one lolling about   in the butcher case (you won’t likely find this in the pre-packaged section)  ask to have it cut the way you want it; my local Harris Teeter will cut to order but generally has thick-cut steaks in the butcher case.

This works fine with rib eye or with filet mignon, as long as it is thick-cut. Personally, I prefer strip or rib-eye to filet. Even with rib eye, it’s still not a substitute for real prime rib roast, but a good “second” so that I plan to have “leftovers”.

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless steak (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick (about 1 pound), strip or rib eye
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for searing

Preparation

  1. Adjust oven rack to  mid-position and pre-heat oven to 275 °F .
  2. Pat steaks dry with paper towel and season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Place steak on wire rack set in rimmed pan and place in oven.  (Steak does need to be raised rather in contact with pan).
  4. Cook until instant-read thermometer inserted in center of steak registers 90 to 95°F for rare to medium-rare, 20 to 25 minutes  (or 100 to 105°F  for medium, 25 to 30 minutes).
  5. Heat oil in  heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until smoking.
  6. Place steak in the skillet and sear until well-browned and nicely crusty–about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, lifting once halfway through to redistribute fat under the steak.
  7. Using tongs, turn steak and cook until well browned on the other side, about 2 to 2-1/2 minutes.
  8. Use tongs to stand steak on the sides and sear on all sides. (This really is worth the effort–and it really does not take long.
  9. Transfer to cooling rack, tent with foil, and let rest for about 10 minutes–this also is really worth the wait.
  10. You can prepare a quick pan sauce while the steak is resting, or simply add a pat of herb butter, horseradish,  or some blue cheese crumbles to the warm steak.

Add some simple sides like salad or baked potato. Now pour yourself a another glass of that luscious  red wine that was  breathing while you were cooking, and enjoy.

A son goût!

Garlic mashed potatoes

My assigned dish for the Thanksgiving dinner that I always have with friends is garlic mashed potatoes…I love them, but don’t make mashed potatoes for one.  One of the reasons is that I want my mashed potatoes to be unctuous, with lots of butter and (at least) half-and-half–not something I should be adding to my diet often.

This year, I made my Thanksgiving garlic mashed potatoes as described inCook’s Country recipe for garlic mashed potatoes–it’s a one-pot method that produced a lovely result–with less effort that the way I had done them.  It’s always been my contention that I don’t want to cook potatoes for mashing in the jackets–I hate having to peel them while still hot, and I certainly don’t want to boil peeled potatoes in water–I want all that lovely starch to be available to absorb cream and butter–so I’ve always steamed them and then let them dry out just a bit before I start mashing.

This recipe took a different approach:  the potatoes were cooked with the minced garlic (after it was sautéed in butter) and then cooked in the half-and-half with a bit of water added.  Once tender the potatoes were mashed right in the pot, adding some more butter, and half-and-half.

I’ve looked at this recipe and wondering if this approach could be adapted to making mashed potatoes (decent ones) for one, or maybe two.  It would certainly be faster than baking a potato and then making mashed potatoes, since the potatoes are cut into 1/2-inch cubes before cooking and you do the mashing right in the same pot that you cooked them in–less clean-up to do, as well.

Adapting this recipe for one seemingly would involve just a ratio adjustment–but that will take a test run to see if it is so simple.  Since the original recipe called for four pounds of potatoes (designed to serve about 6 or so), it might take some tinkering, but sometimes mashed potatoes (like risotto) are necessary even when doing single-serving cooking.

Another cookbook for single-serving cooking

Cover of Serve YourselfI’m always browsing cookbooks–especially those that appear to deal with single-serving cooking.  A friend recently mentioned Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One to me. True to form, I immediately went in search of it–and was pleased to find it available in Kindle format.

I really identified with a statement made in this book: “…we solo artists deserve just as varied a diet as anyone.  While I love having some leftovers around that can morph into new dishes, I also appreciate the beauty of starting and finishing a single cooking project on a given night.” (Kindle location 173)

One of the things that I find delightful is that there are suggestions and recipes that are incredibly helpful in allowing morphing leftovers.  These include condiments (to use not only on leftovers) but suggestions on using those extra ingredients that seem to be the bane of single-serving cooking–such as what’s left of that bottle of wine that you opened to go with dinner yesterday evening.  Personally I think that this is a book worth having in your library if you cook for one, but I suggest that, at least, you check the local library and peruse this one.

I’d also recommend his website for fun reading of his “Cooking for One” column for more thoughts on cooking for one, and more recipes.  Even cooking for one it can still be a son goût!  

Where do I find recipes?

While one of the secrets of cooking for one easily is learning to improvise, I can understand some hesitancy to throw thing into the pot without some guidance–it is a learned skill.  If you are not one of us who avidly reads cookbooks, and owns a few dozen or more, and you are not up to just improvising, where do you find recipes to start with?  I’ve mentioned a few cookbooks that I think are good to get you started on improvising dishes and meals, but I can understand that you might not want to go out and buy cookbooks, so I’m going to suggest some places where you can find recipes.

First, check some of  the blogs that I have listed on my blog roll: Former Chef and Closet Cooking both have some delightful recipes.  Another source that I recommend is Mark Bittman’s column The Minimalist in the New York Times.  The author stresses a few good ingredients for great flavor rather than complicated dishes, so that makes it particularly good if you are trying to work into improvisations of your own.

A neighbor and friend just introduced me to another website that might well be worth exploring:  All Recipes.com.  A neighbor (who also cooks for one) has shared some of the dishes that she has made following recipes from this site, and they have been excellent:  a braised cabbage with keilbasa, and a chicken soup using adzuki beans and kale. This website does require registration, but it is free.  A feature of this website that might be most useful to you if you are just starting with improvisations and changing recipe sizes is a calculator that will do this for you–you do not even have to do the math.  This should help you get a feel for doing this with other recipes.  There are lots of recipes here, ranging from some that use canned ingredients (for example, condensed soup and mixed vegetables) to those using fresh ingredients–you get to choose.

Since I’m a soup lover, and soup usually keeps well, and lends itself to “re-seasoning” and adding additional ingredients to change it, I have found the Swanson Broth website to be useful.  Obviously, I prefer homemade stocks and broths, but there are times when it just isn’t possible; you need some “convenience” ingredients like canned broth in the pantry.  I’ve found Swanson broth to be acceptable.  They have some great, quick recipes which, while they tout Swanson broth and stocks, are very usually use no other processed/prepared ingredients, and can be flexible in quantity.  One of my favorites is the corn and red pepper chowder.  This is quick, easy, and very easy to “refresh” for a different taste from the leftovers.  You might want to change the seasoning:  add one of those chipotle peppers that you froze after you opened the last can.  I particularly like to drop in a few shrimp to poach while I gently reheat the left over soup.  A really quick make-over can be done with a favorite seasoning such as Penzeys Southwest Seasoning.

Other places to look for recipes are purveyors of specialty foods (doesn’t mean you have to buy anything) or cookware.  Cooking.com, Williams-Sonoma, and Penzeys Spices all have recipes on their websites.  Sure, they are touting their wares, but the recipes are good and reliable.

Other sources of recipes are from websites of cooking magazines (and the magazines, too) like Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Fine Cooking, and America’s Test Kitchen. Another worthwhile site for those of use looking for single-serving meals is Judith Jones’ Meals for One (at Ophra.com). Her cookbook, The Joys of Cooking for One, is one that’s great for promoting improvisation while cooking for one and eating well.  You’ll find recipes for one on that website.

As you cook more, you’ll find that there are particular chefs whose recipes just seem to click with your style and flavors that you like.  Always check for blogs by these chefs.  One of the latest that I’ve added is Jamie Oliver’s website.  His recipes just “click” for me.  Many websites and/or blogs allow you to register (free) for newsletters or e-mail updates.  If you really like the style of that particular chef, that is a good thing to do.    If there are several, you might consider Google Alerts, or other tools like that.

There are lots of recipes out there–they may not be single-serving recipes, but they will give you ideas for things to try as you learn to improvise.

Eat Your Books to find recipes!

I have  found a resource that I have to rave about: a website called Eat Your Books. For those of us who have LOTS of cookbooks it’s a real treasure.  How many times have you stood, staring at the bookshelves, wondering where  you saw that recipe for beef tongue?  (Okay, maybe not many for tongue, but how about that overflow of tomatoes in the summer and the zucchini and eggplant?)  Well, there’s caponata, ratatouille….but where are the recipes. This site does not provide recipes–it provides the means for you to find them in your own books!

Eat Your Books is a site that has indexes of cookbooks (over 1,200 now and growing).  You put those virtual books on your virtual bookshelf on the website, and you can then search the indexes for recipes.  A friend discovered this and told me about it.  It’s not free, but is definitely worth the price.  I signed up for a trial membership and spent the time adding some of the titles that I own, and took it for a test drive.  I tried some common things (eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini), and some rather esoteric things (beef tongue, beef heart). Worked like a charm.  (Of course, I did have several cookbooks that had  beef tongue recipes.)  The tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant were there too.  The search is not quite Google so it made a difference if I searched for tomato-zucchini, or tomatoes and zucchini, but once you get the hang of it, it’s like having the world at your fingertips.

Another great thing that the site does is list the major ingredients with each recipe so that you can evaluate the potential from the list of recipes.  So, though I had tomatoes and zucchini, I did not have peppers, so I could rule out some recipes right at the search point.

Needless to say my test drive was a short one.  I was preparing food for the time when I was having a house guest, so I really gave the “trial” a good workout, and decided this was a must-have for me.  Because it was still in “beta” testing, there  was a special rate for a lifetime membership and I opted for lifetime rather than annual. The beta testing is over now and the “real” version is up and working but I think there may still be a special lifetime membership offer.   I have only entered about 40 of my titles so far, but it’s well worth the effort to do this.  I cannot imagine being without this website now. There is a blog and community pages as well.

At the present time, there are rarer books that are not included, but the numbers are growing all the time, and new features are being added.  You can also suggest books to be indexed.

A new cookbook

A few weeks ago, I had a friend visiting (as a house guest) from California.  We were out and about doing some things that I don’t usually do: visited A Southern Season to browse for housewares and foods, and we visited The Regulator Bookshop. Both were having their summer sales.  As usual, I came home with things that I did not expect to buy.

One of my “finds” at the bookstore was The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones.  This is an admixture of philosophy of eating alone as well as some recipes, and, best of all, lots of tips for not having left-overs.  While some of the recipes are for things that cannot be bought in small quantities (like pork tenderloin) she provides recipes and suggestions about make several different dishes from the “left-overs” so that they really don’t taste like left-overs. While this does require some meal planning, the emphasis here is on flexibility and improvisation.  I was impressed that the recipes here were real meals for real enjoyment.  I think that this is a worthwhile addition to my cookbook library.