November 20, 2016
I’m looking out the window, and this is what I see: an entirely white world. The power’s out all over Columbia County, but we’ve got a back up generator and a fire burning in the grate. The scent of the stock I’m making for Thanksgiving gravy fills the house, making everything seem cozy.
And I’m hungry.
Happily, we had some warning. I knew we’d want some red meat on this winter day, so I marinated skirt steak. Lunch is almost ready.
Shopping list: 1 pound skirt steak, 1 loaf bread.
Staples: salt, vegetable oil, condiments.
If you love steak sandwiches, you need to make friends with skirt steak. It’s a fantastically flavorful cut that doesn’t cost much. It does, however, demand a bit of coddling.
The skirt is a bundle of abdominal muscles that have worked very hard, lending them great flavor and a tendency to be tough. Long and thin (a friend calls it “steak by the yard”), skirt steak has many aliases. In Texas it’s called “beef for fajitas,” and in the Jewish restaurants of New York’s Lower East Side it goes by “Romanian tenderloin.” But in my house it’s sandwich steak because the skinny slices can stand up to salsa, chimichurri, pesto – or simply mustard and a bit of butter.
If you buy your meat from an artisanal butcher, ask for the “outside” skirt, which is fatter and juicier than the inside cut. (If you’re buying meat from industrially-raised animals this is a pointless exercise; the Japanese import 90% of American outside skirt steak.)
Rub the meat all over with salt – 3/4 of a teaspoon per pound of meat and let it sit in this dry brine for 4 or 5 hours before cooking. This will draw out the liquid and concentrate the flavor. Just before cooking blot the meat very well with paper towels to remove all the surface moisture, and brush it with a bit of vegetable oil. (I prefer a neutral oil like grapeseed, but it’s your call.)
Skirt steaks prefer high heat (cooked low and slow the meat turns chewy), so get a grill or grill pan very hot. The steak will cook quickly; two minutes a side should give you beautifully rare meat.
Rest the meat for ten minutes. Now comes the most important part: the slicing. If you cut with the grain each slice will be a single tough muscle. If you cut against the grain, into very thin slices, you’ll end up with tender meat. (This means that when you’re cutting you want the grain to run up and down in vertical stripes, not horizontal ones.)
Now cut a crusty roll in half, butter one side, spread mustard on the other, and heap it with thinly sliced steak. You can add any condiments you like, but this meat is so tasty it really deserves the spotlight to itself.
November 19, 2016
Just back from the holiday farmers market in Great Barrington. Many fantastic finds, but my favorite is this fantastic apple cider vinegar from Carr’s Cider House; I bought an entire case, which just might last me through the year. Faintly sweet, it has a strong apple flavor; I think it’s the perfect vinegar for Roquefort salad dressing.
I’m also a big fan of their cider syrup; pour it on roasted carrots, and they really start to sing. (I also bought a whole slew of bright red carrots.) And you will never have a more perfect taste of autumn than this cider poured over pumpkin pancakes.
November 14, 2016
In the mood to cook? I think this tart soup might be the perfect dish for this particular moment in time. If anything can comfort you, this is it.
Shopping list: 6 cups chicken stock, 1/3 cup rice, 1 lemon.
Staples: 4 eggs, salt.
Bring about six cups of good rich chicken stock to a boil. Add a third of a cup of raw rice, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes..
Meanwhile, grate the rind from one lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon, and add the juice to the rind.
Separate four eggs, dropping the yolks into the lemon juice. (Save the whites for another use.) Add a pinch of salt and beat the yolks into the lemon juice and rind.
When the rice is tender, whisk about half a cup of the hot stock into the yolks, then slowly pour the yolks into the soup, stirring constantly. Cook gently for about five minutes, or until the soup is slightly thickened. Pour into bowls and eat slowly.
November 12, 2016
Just found this letter Bertrand Russell wrote to my mother in 1950, telling her to cancel her proposed trip to visit him in England. (He was a longtime friend.) Appalled by the bomb, he was certain the next world war was about to begin.
Things turned out not to be as dire as he anticipated.
On this day, that gives me some consolation.
I’m giving myself the rest of the weekend to mourn. After that, it’s time to move on. We have a lot of work to do. We have to make sure the America we believe in, the America we fought so hard for, does not die.
November 8, 2016
As a New Yorker, I’m very loyal to Gray’s Papaya hotdogs, so a couple days ago, when I was in Providence doing a Goat Hill Writers talk with Michael Ruhlman and Ann Hood, I wasn’t too enthusiastic when Michael insisted I try the hotdog at Chez Pascal. They’re house-made with local ingredients, so how could I refuse? I took a bite…. and swooned just a little. That’s some hotdog.
Truth is I loved all the sausages that Matt Gennuso is making at The Wurst Kitchen (which occupies the front room of the charmingly cozy restaurant he and his wife Kristin run). I loved the kielbasa – but not as much as Michael did. Cleveland man that he is, he ordered a second plate. The sausage infused with fennel and locally grown paprika (it’s the one in the middle), was really swell. And I appreciated the weisswurst with its curried onion sauce. (Although honestly, shouldn’t weisswurst be white? It’s the one on the end, and as you can clearly see it’s more like pinkwurst).
Then the pork butt pastrami sandwich arrived, smothered in sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and mustard. I can understand why some people – Ann Hood for instance – can’t live without it.
Ann asked for seconds. As for me? More hotdogs please.