I’ll admit, this week’s menu was none too creative. It’s ultra-typical actually. Kind of plain old boring even. Take a look and see for yourself…
See what I mean. It could come straight from any steak house in America. Certainly not Haute Cuisine. It sure doesn’t take a professional chef to think up this kind of stuff.
But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this menu. Because I have to tell you, this dinner was Good with a capital G. Darn Good. And you know why? Well, because I didn’t just make plain-old steak, creamed spinach and french fries. I made the best ever steak, creamed spinach and french fries. And the same with the salad and dessert too. The best ever vinaigrette, the best ever brownies, the best ever hot fudge.
So while a bit on the boring side on paper, on the plate this meal was nothing short of spectacular. Trust me when I say this: You’re going to want to pay attention to these recipes. Each and every last one is a complete winner. A must try.
And now that I sound one-hundred percent full of myself, I’d like to make clear one thing. Many of these recipes here today are not even my own. A few are, but most are pretty thoroughly adapted from other chefs’ recipes. So again, I’m none too original this week. But I don’t care at all. Because sometimes, for the sake of eating yummy food, you have to swallow your pride and follow a recipe or two (or five). Even when you’re a so called professional :).
Now, let’s set the stage. This week we had another quite exceptional guest of honor, Ramón, an old friend of Ben’s, who’s from Spain, but has lived in Australia for the past ten years, and was once upon a time a foreign exchange student living with Ben’s family in Geneseo, NY. So, it was this worldly guy whom we shared our dinner table with last Thursday. Though I’d heard plenty about Ramón, we’d never met before. But I liked him right away. He was full of fun ideas, was gracious and warm, and was super-enthusiastic about everything. In short, he was a blast to have over for dinner, and I can definitely see why he and Ben have been friends for so long.
And so, to celebrate Ben’s guy friend, we wanted to have a guy-ish sort of meal. And that meant steak, plain and simple. So now let’s talk about the food.
And let’s start with the salad. Now, people have been tossing salads just like this for at least a decade or so. Blue cheese, spiced pecans, dried cherries. It’s a common theme among salads, but one I have little interest in composing variations to. You know why? Because it works. It worked then, it works now, and it always will work. The salty, pungent, creamy blue cheese, the tart and chewy cherries, the warm and spicy-sweet crunchy pecans. I’m obsessed with each of these ingredients just on their own. But man, when you put them together, what a combination! And they’re pretty as anything, all together too. Oh, and the vinaigrette that goes with it is just perfect. For nearly any salad I ever make, I use the same basic ratio, and just sub in different vinegars and seasonings. Check out the recipe. It’s seriously good. Based on a typical French vinaigrette, it’s one of my very own best evers.
Okay, I’m gonna let you in on a big secret here. Really, a real secret. I’m embarrassed to tell you even. Really, I don’t know why I’m admitting this. I don’t want to lose credibility with you all, especially so early on in this blogging relationship. Please don’t think any less of me as a chef, when I tell you that… well, here goes… I had to get a little extra help when it came to cooking the steaks. It doesn’t get any more basic than that. Pan-searing is a technique I learned in my Cooking Skills 101 class at culinary school. And I’d grilled about a hundred million steaks in a handful of restaurants, before ever even going to school. So this was something I should have been perfectly capable of doing all by myself. But the sad truth is, I wasn’t.
It’s just that these were really nice NY Strip steaks. Really nice. They came from grass-fed cows, they were dry aged, and were twice as expensive as anything else in the meat case at Whole Foods. (Side note: We only eat steak like once a year or so, so we decided a splurge like this was worthwhile.) So I really didn’t want to mess up and overcook the steaks. And this flashback from few years back when we’d splurged on steaks and I overcooked ‘em kept popping into my head. And earlier in the week, when I was flipping through the pages of an old Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, looking for my favorite buttermilk pancake recipe, I happened to come across an article called The Secrets of Pan-frying Steak. Well, of course I had to read it. And of course, I had to try it too.
You see, I inherently trust every last word from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s my favorite magazine out there. For those of you who don’t know too much about it, here’s Cook’s Illustrated in a nutshell. They take classic recipes, say like Strawberry Shortcake or Eggs Benedict or yeah, Buttermilk Pancakes, and use the scientific method to perfect them. They’ll attempt a single recipe dozens and dozens (sometimes hundreds) of times, tweaking and fine-tuning at every attempt, until they arrive at absolute perfection. And what’s really cool, each of the articles describes this whole process they went through to reach this ultimate recipe. Everything I’ve ever made from this magazine has been spot on. And anytime I want to make something classic, say like brownies or spiced nuts or hot fudge (yep, I relied pretty heavily on the Cook’s Illustrated this week), I usually at least check out what they have to say. Really, I have to attribute the sheer magnificence of this week’s dinner to Cook’s Illustrated. I couldn’t have done it without you.
So, I followed The Secrets of Pan-frying Steak directions to the T, and then threw in a step of my own and poured melted butter all over them. And believe me when I tell you (you really should trust me by now, after all that honesty I just laid out on the table) these steaks were unbelievably, insanely good. The method is failsafe, and it’s the one I’m going to follow from now on, forever.
Okay, onto the sides. The creamed spinach to be exact. Now I’m sure Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for this – this is just their kinda thing. But I went with my own for this one, because over the last few years, I’ve made creamed spinach enough times myself, that I think I’ve reached perfection all on my own. The whole thing is just, well, exactly right. Emerald green ribbons of tender baby spinach wrapped in a cozy blanket of creamy sauce. Mmmmm. Each ingredient plays an important part, but none is too obvious. It’s these subtle touches that make this such a sweetly humble, but utterly delicious dish.
Now the french fries. They’re not only the best ever french fries. They’re the official best ever french fries. Seriously. It’s been officially proven by the Alicia Foundation (a food science research institute in Catalonia, and the place where I was lucky enough to work for a while last year), that these are the best french fries in all of creation. In true Cook’s Illustrated fashion, Alicia took a scientific approach to creating the perfect fry. And what they came up with really, truly is the best. It’s a revolutionary method, but one that’s easy enough to pull off at home. I won’t blab on about it now. I’ve done enough of that already today, and plus, the recipe speaks for itself. Go check it out. Oh, but I should tell you a bit about the fries themselves, because the recipe alone can’t begin to relay the vast scope of their staggering deliciousness. Let me just say, they’re like these rich and creamy sticks of mashed potato, oh so gently enclosed in the most delicate, web-like crust of golden crispiness. You’ve never had French fries like these before. They’re beyond perfect.
On to dessert. Brownie sundaes are Ben’s favorite dessert, I think. At least, they’re the one he asks for most often. Not that I blame him. Really, what’s better than this combination? Cold and rich vanilla ice cream, warm and chewy chocolate brownies, fluffy clouds of whipped cream, studs of toasty walnuts and thick, gooey hot fudge oozing over everything. Oh, and let’s not forget the cherry!
The Cook’s Illustrated (oh my gosh, I’m such a broken record!) brownies have been in my arsenal for a few years now, and I’ve more recently been introduced to their stellar hot fudge sauce. The hot fudge does that thing where it gets a little bit chewy when you pour it over cold ice cream, which to be honest, has always been my favorite thing about hot fudge. And the brownies are simply awesome. After making these the first time, I knew I’d never follow another brownie recipe for as long as I live. Now like with any cookie, everyone has their own opinion of what makes the best brownie. In my version of the best, it’s a brownie that’s chewy but not exactly fudgy, tender on the insides, but not, definitely not cakey, and with a crisp and crackly top crust and really, really chewy sides. If you too like brownies just like these, do go and try this recipe. I promise, you won’t be disappointed at all!
Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for putting up with all my insecurities regarding my huge lack of creativity this week. I do feel like a bit of an imposter when I follow anyone else’s recipe too closely, but like I said before, it can’t be such a bad thing, if it’s done in the name of yummy-ness. And this entire menu was nothing if not for yummy-ness.