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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Eat Well in Under 20 Minutes

Petra, the very first person to post a comment to my blog, seems to suggest (albiet obliquely) that perhaps the recipes I've added so far are too complex. She indicated was looking for something in the make-it-in-20-minutes range. So, here's one. It's from a new book I'm working on called "Gourmet Real Simple: What You Should Have Learned When You Lived With Your Parents. Smart tips on how to be a gourmet cook without trying."

I worked on it about a year ago and had some of my kids and their friends review it for difficulty. It received fair marks from those who took the time to read it, but they wanted even more simplifed recipes and suggested that I add menus with wine suggestions as well. So I'm working on those updates now. Once I finish it--with luck within a month--I'll make it available as an e-book, probably through the same folks who are bringing you "The Seductive Chef." In the meantime, I'm plugging away on the menus and drinking far too much wine.

Here's one that is a meal unto itself. I'd accompany it with a California Syrah, an Australian Shiraz or a French Côtes du Rhône. They are all made from the same grape. Parallèle “45” is a good Côtes du Rhône for under $10. If your tastes run to Australian wines try a Rosemount Shiraz. If it’s California you want, Fetzer and Beringer are good bets.

Get a good loaf of crusty bread and have at it. By the way, another feature of the recipes is a shopping list at the end.

Sirloin Steak Salad
Serves 4 (or two generously)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

This recipe is schizophrenic. It could have gone in the salad section. But since the key to it is a fast sauté, it’s here instead. And the dressing is actually more of a sauce than a dressing. But it’s good and fast, just the perfect dish for easy gourmet.

Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup flour
1 pound of sirloin strip steak about an inch thick
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup water
2 or 3 green onions sliced thinly
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup blue cheese crumbled
Bag of salad, any kind you like
  • Salt and pepper the steak on both sides.
  • Put the flour in a shallow bowl or on a piece of waxed paper. Dredge the steak in the flour.
  • Pre-heat a heavy sauté pan, preferably non-stick. Add the oil and butter.
  • When the butter stops foaming and begins to turn brown, sear the steak over high heat, about two minutes on each side. Remove the steak from the pan; cover with foil and let it rest while you make the dressing (sauce).
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the water and vinegar. Stir to loosen and dissolve the browned bits.
  • Reduce the mixture to about half, add the cream and the onion and return to the simmer for a minute or so.
  • Pour cream and onion mixture into a small bowl to cool.
  • Slice steak thinly at an angle and set aside.
  • Dump the bag of salad and the blue cheese into a salad bowl.
  • Add the dressing (sauce) and toss.
  • Heap the salad onto the plates and top with steak slices. Serve immediately.

The shopping list

1 pound of sirloin strip steak about an inch thick
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
A bunch of green onions
Half pint of heavy cream
Package of blue cheese crumbles
Bag of salad

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Next Time, It Will Be the Food

It worked.

I'm now the proud owner of two new stents--the best drug-eluting stents money can buy says my cardiologist--and two newly cleaned stents, which he did while he was in the neighborhood. Good for another 100,000 miles, or so I quip to the inquisitive. The artery, it turns out, was 100 percent blocked. That's what usually causes a heart attack and at times, death. I barely had twinges. So instead of looking for my insurance policies, Maureen is busy planning a champagne and cake get together for this evening to celebrate my son's engagement to our future daughter-in-law.

It's been a busy week.

He proposed last night, dramatically on bended knee in the middle of our favorite romatic restaurant, The Old Warsaw, the grande dame of the ever-changing Dallas restaurant scene. He had originally planned to ask her after dinner at The Mansion--home of small portions of Southwest cuisine on large plates and one of the city's see-and-be-seen gathering spots.

We talked him out of the Mansion and into the Warsaw.

The Mansion, we said, would relegate him--even in his medal-bedecked Class A's--to the outer regions where the not-so-glittery gawk at the glittery. The Old Warsaw's outer edges are reserved for romantic moments. And, I told him, the Old Warsaw is one of Ross Perot's favorite places.

That fact did little to impress him until--swear to god--the former independent presidential candidate and Saturday Night Live staple, sat down with him and Wendy, jokingly claiming they were at his table, and drew Brian out about his experiences fighting the Mahadi army in Sadr City. Brian tells us he was as easy to talk to and attentive as a long-time friend. And, on his way out, he picked up the tab, his way of thanking our soldiers one at a time.

He'll get my vote if he ever decides to run. Unless he's running against Kinky Freedman. That would be a tough call.

All of this has nothing (or everything) to do with food. But when Maureen and I go to The Old Warsaw, I like to start with steak tartare (hmmm, angioplasty and steak tartare... I may need to rethink). I don't have the Old Warsaw's recipe, but here's one you can make as you listen to your arteries clog.

According to legend, the dish was invented by the Tartare tribes, who were so busy pillaging and looting as they moved west out of Central Asia, that they didn’t have time to stop and cook their food. They just kept raw meat under their saddles where it was tenderized, and later spiced and eaten on the go. When they got to Germany, the local decided they liked the tenderized meat, but liked it even better cooked, creating in the process the world’s first hamburger. But that's another story.

This recipe is best uncooked.

Steak Tartare
Serves Four

A 16 ounce filet steak, ground or chopped to a hamburger-like consistency. Use a meat grinder, a food processor or, if you’re good with a knife, dice the meat until its near the consistency of hamburger.
1 egg
½ cup of diced onions or shallots
½ teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce or more to taste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon capers
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, roll the mixture into a ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to allow the flavors to blend. (You can adjust the seasonings to taste.)

Divide into four portions, surround with extra chopped onions, capers and parsley (or not) and serve with toast points. Remember, ground meat that reaches room temperature becomes a Petri dish for bacteria, particularly when it’s mixed with a raw egg. So don’t dawdle.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's Not Always the Food. Is it?

My horoscope says to proceed with caution. Maureen's says that if something can go wrong today it will. Funny how a breakfast diversion consumed with a side of Dilbert, the Far Side and Peanuts, can become ominous four houors before angioplasty.

It appears as if another one clogged up. At least that's what the CT scan said is causing the random attacks that felt remarkably like my old ulcer acting up again. They started before Christmas during one of my 6:00 a.m. power walks. The first few times I just walked through the pain, relieved when it subsided and confirmed to my hopeful mind that it was not my heart but my stomach that was at fault. It didn't happen every day, but often enough so that the morning walk became something to avoid, easy with the holidays approaching.

Christmas morning, unloading the presents from the car in front of my daughter's house, it struck again. Thoughts of a rush to a nearby emergency room were dismissed. Why screw up my granddaughter's first real Christmas--she had just turned 2.

So I pushed through it with a silent promise to see the doctor right after the holidays. Although hindsight tells me that it would of been a Christmas to be worked out in therapy for her had I keeled over dead in an ocean of wrapping paper.

Two weeks later I was at my doctor's still hoping it was my stomach. I even convinced him to give me a prescription for Nexium, in exchange for a promise to go to a cardiologist. I did and two tests and three weeks later, I'm steeling myself for what will be my third and possibily fourth stent.

Of the two I already have, one seems to be clogging up again, but I'm not sure if anything will be done about that on this trip. The doctor was somewhat vague about that. There will definitely be an attempt at stenting the left anterior descending artery as well as one of its branches.

That's where the aprehension starts. If the good doctor can't stent them, then it's open heart surgery, which frankly terrifies me. I remember my father commenting on his and how it felt as his rib cage slowly mended. I envision my chest laying open, my heart stopped and a machine nearby providing oxygen to my blood in quantities that just might hasten the feeblemindedness that is approaching fast enough on its own. I can't even watch CSI.

I asked my doctor why, when all my numbers--cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure--were good and when my excercise program was payin off in lost pounds, did this happen. Was it something I ate?

Not really, he said. There are two basic reasons--my father and 20 years of cigarette smoking--neither of which I could change at this point, even though I stopped smoking 20 years ago.

At least he didn't say food. Because here is one recipe that could share the blame.

Linguini and White Clam Sauce
Serves 2

Some people use whole clams. I like the minced clams better. It’s your choice.
This is a quick and easy meal that can be on the table in under 30 minutes. It goes well as a side with a main fish course, too.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped shallots
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¾ cups dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup chicken broth
2 6.5-ounce cans minced clams, drained and juices reserved
Salt to taste
½ pound Linguine pasta
Parmesan cheese, for grating over the pasta
  • Bring four to six quarts of water to the boil. Add salt and then add the pasta and cook until it’s al dente. If it’s dried pasta, it will take about 10 minutes or so. Fresh pasta, maybe five. Bite into a strand. If you get just a little resistance when you do, it’s al dente.
  • When it’s done, drain it in colander and return to the pot. Add a pat of butter and stir to coat. Keep warm.
  • Open the cans of clams and drain off and save the juices.
  • Mince the shallots and garlic and chop the parsley.
  • Heat a very large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the olive oil and butter.
  • When butter is melted and bubbling, stir in the minced shallots and sauté until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the oregano, black pepper and chopped parsley. Add white wine, chicken stock and reserved juice from the clams and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is reduced by a third, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  • When sauce is reduced, stir in the minced clams and salt to taste and heat through, being careful not to boil.
  • Pour over the pasta and toss. Serve immediately.
  • Top each serving with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.