Saturday, March 15, 2008

Steak au Poivre (Steak with Cracked Peppercorns)

The outcome of this recipe can only be described as a foodgasm. It's a traditional French dish and now it's one of my favorite ways to prepare steak. Anoka Meat Market was selling something called "butter steak", and I figured, butter + steak = how bad could it be? It was some kind of well-marbled strip cut and the price was right. Over the past couple of weeks I kept hearing references to Steak au Poivre, and figured I'd put my outrageous spice collection (and my awesome wooden mallet) to work and try out the recipe.

Side note: If you're curious about the mallet, Dan made it in his wood-turning class to replace the mochi pounder, which didn't survive the trip back from NY. It comes in handy a lot, and I mainly use it to crush spices and pound sauerkraut. We're working on making an even better design (the one in these photos is a prototype).

The recipe is very simple and based mainly on Julia Child's version. She calls for a combination of peppercorns, Szechuan pepper, and allspice for extra flava.

I should be getting kickbacks from Penzeys.

1) Pat dry two tender strip steaks. If possible, allow them to come to room temperature before cooking.

2) Crush 5 tablespoons of peppercorns, including as many of the following as possible:
  • black peppercorns
  • white "
  • green "
  • pink "
  • Szechuan "
  • whole allspice

To keep them from flying around the kitchen, place them in a sturdy ziploc while crushing. You're done when there are no fragments larger than 1/2 of a peppercorn.

Trivia alert! Red peppercorns, Szechuan peppercorns and allspice (aka 'Jamaican pepper') are not actually true pepper (Piper nigrum). However, they still count in your tally so you can impress your foodie friends by saying you used six kinds of pepper. See this link for more information on being the coolest white person in town.

3) Smear the steaks on both sides with olive oil or softened butter. Press the peppercorns into all sides, trying to distribute them evenly.

4) Heat up a thick-bottomed pan good and hot with a generous portion of butter + olive oil in the bottom. When the oil just begins to brown, put the steaks in and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. The steaks are traditionally served rare to medium rare with a browned and crispy outside.

5) When the steaks are mostly cooked, remove them from the pan and place them on a plate with a loose tent of foil to rest and finish cooking while you make a pan sauce.

This pan was a bit too small.

6) To the remaining hot oil and drippings, add 3 finely chopped shallots (or in my case, 1/3 of a red onion) and cook until they are soft and just begin to brown. Add 3/4 c. red wine and cook this down, stirring with a whisk, until the wine is syrupy and reduced. Whisk in 3 Tbsp. softened butter and season with salt. I'm told you can also use cognac or brandy.

7) Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve with yummy side dishes. I picked salt potatoes and peas, though apparently french fries and a green salad would be traditional.

Basically Steak au Poivre creates a taste explosion in your mouth--the good kind of explosion. The pepper isn't as spicy as you might imagine and it combines with the bleeding red meat, butter, and wine to make a smooth, decadent meal. Some recipes call for heavy cream instead of butter, but I fear that would become a garish purple with the wine. You can even leave the shallots or onions out! Just keep it simple and don't overcook the meat or skimp on butter. Words to live by!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Banana Bread (with chocolate!)

There are countless recipes for banana bread, and I consulted four cookbooks to come up with my own version. This one is primarily based on the recipe in The Melting Pot, but has a few variations. To be extra decadent, I added dark chocolate chips instead of walnuts--everyone knows that nuts in dessert are revolting, so use chocolate instead!

If you are low on bananas, you can substitute applesauce, and I hear that Alex has had good luck with using applesauce entirely. Banana bread is very accommodating of whole grain flour, which you can substitute for up to 50% of the flour. To be honest, I'm not sure why you add the milk and vanilla at the end, but why tempt fate by changing the steps around?

Preheat your oven to 350.

1/2 c. shortening at room temp
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. sugar
2-3 mashed bananas to make 1 c.
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sour milk, buttermilk, or yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped nuts or 3/4 c. dark chocolate chips

Beat the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and continue beating until shiny. Add the mashed bananas and combine well. Sift together the dry ingredients and then stir them in, taking care not to overmix. Fold in the sour milk and vanilla and then fold in the nuts or chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Remove the loaf from the pan and allow to cool completely. Ideally, wrap it tightly and let it rest overnight before serving.

Pictures will be forthcoming!