Marinade On That For Awhile…

Blog posting has taken a back seat to getting ready for our 10-day trip next week – and finishing up that cherry ice cream. Last weekend, though, we took our first trip to our local farm stand and came back with a good haul. Central Connecticut has a lot of wonderful produce, and this farm also raises their own beef! We picked up a very affordable package of flap meat (or “steak tips” on most restaurant menus) with a vague notion of letting them swim in a marinade for awhile before cooking. I didn’t really have a game plan, but once I got in the kitchen, it came together pretty quickly:

Steak Tip Citrus Marinade

1/2 cup very good extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
2 limes, juiced
3 tablespoons blanco tequila (I used Lunazul)
2 generous pinches kosher salt
Pepper to taste

Some recipes that say “very good extra-virgin olive oil” are full of elitist crock, but I say it here because the olive oil is the background for the rest of the flavors and you want it to actually taste good. Otherwise, the marinade will just be a lot of citrus with some vague greasiness. The best way to judge this is if the olive oil is something you’d happily dip a piece of bread in and go to town on.

Our meat hung out in this marinade for about 3 hours (because we got hungry), but I recommend letting it go longer – overnight, if you can. Flap meat is similar to flank steak in that it’s a little tough and letting it suck up a lot of citrus and tequila will help break down all those sinewy fibers. I patted the marinade off the steaks, reseasoned them with salt and pepper, and seared the meat for 1-2 minutes per side in my cast iron pan for a medium-rare cook (our steaks were thin). The steaks came out delicious – a lot of citrus with some bite from the tequila all mixed with salty beef flavor.

We’re headed to Europe on my first cruise next week, so there will be pictures. And pasta. And ouzo, probably.

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Cherry Season

I’ve learned to love cherries in the past few years. It wasn’t a fruit I ate much growing up, but now it’s one of my favorites. Cherry season is short and it is one of those things that’s difficult at best – impossible, most of the time – to get at other times of the year. I ran through many options on how to enjoy them this year and couldn’t commit: I made a pie last year, and we shouldn’t eat many baked goods anyway, and anything refrigerated will just go bad, so…ice cream!

I love the Master Ice Cream Recipe from the New York Times. It’s very easy to follow and it provides a handy grid for flavorings. We made vanilla and mint last summer with great results, so I was feeling confident about cherry.

IMG_1195Pitting cherries is, well, the pits. My usual method is to put them all in a big plastic bag and smash them with a meat tenderizer to loosen the pits – it’s incredibly messy and the pits take a lot of the fruit with them. The Internet showed me the wine bottle and chopstick method: get an en empty wine bottle, stick the cherry on top and use the wide end of a chopstick to punch the pit down into the bottle. I pitted six cups of cherries this way and it was lots of fun (and a little messy – kids will probably love this).

The custard recipe is made with only cream for the cherry variation, so it ends up being intensely sugary. If you have a candy thermometer, I recommend using it to get the custard up to 170F after adding in the eggs – the custard was the perfect consistency and the thermometer took out the guesswork. The cherry puree also comes out pretty sweet, since it is just cherries and sugar. I was concerned while making both, since super sweet desserts are not my thing. If you have this same problem, just trust the recipe – it will turn out fine.

IMG_1199The cherry variation suggests adding kirsch if you have it, and I do. My husband works for a company that is headquartered in the Black Forest, and he’s always bringing back interesting local things. The first time, it was a cuckoo clock (I was skeptical at first, but now I love it) and the second time, it was kirsch made by the owner of an inn. Kirsch has a very strong sour cherry flavor, so a little goes a very long way – I added a quick splash with my finger partially covering the bottle. Also be mindful that the more alcohol you add, the harder it is to get a hard freeze on the ice cream.

I’m glad my husband had the foresight to buy an ice cream machine well before we ever started dating. I’m not great at committing to appliance purchases – I would have looked at this and gone “When will we ever use it? Pass!”. We use it multiple times a year, apparently, so good job, Tom! I usually stick the ice cream canister in the freezer at least 24 hours before I plan to churn the mixture so it gets intensely cold. I also refrigerate the mixture overnight and sometimes almost a full day before I churn it. The colder everything is, the faster the ice cream will come together. Most suggestions for churn time are 20-30 minutes, but this mixture thickened up very quickly – it only took me 12 minutes to get it to soft-serve texture. We put it in the freezer for 24 hours before serving.

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The buttermilk added into the base is the real key to this flavor variation – it mellows out all the sugar that goes into the custard and the puree (the sourness from the kirsch also helps a little). You get the taste of the fresh cherries first and then a little bit of buttermilk tang at the end. The buttermilk also affects the texture a little – this isn’t the super-silky ice cream that our vanilla ended up being last year. It breaks apart a bit more, but still scoops nicely. Also, when you make ice cream with fresh fruit, expects bits of it to be in the end product. If you are someone who objects to chunky textures, make sure you blitz your puree more than you think is necessary.

Now, the trick is not eating it all by the end of the weekend.

Shakshuka: Hella Fire

Shakshuka – eggs baked in spicy tomato sauce – is a dish I read about ages ago and thought sounded amazing, but always found some way to not pick for dinner. I finally got around to it last night using Melissa Clark’s recipe from the New York Times. The results are best described in the recipe’s comment section by user Federal Pioneer:

“Bomb daddy. Didn’t have the peps, but went hard in the paint anyway. Hella fire. x”

With an endorsement like that, how could I possibly put it off any longer?

IMG_1191As you can see, I did have the peps, and I do think they added a lot to the flavor. I would slice them thinner than I did – it was Friday night and I was hungry, so I was feeling a little lazy with knife cuts. The onions cooked down nicely but the peppers ended up a little chunky and crunchy instead of soft and melty because they were sliced too thickly.

IMG_1192 I’ll take pretty much any excuse to break out my cast iron pan. Since all the spices were added at the same time, I just threw them all in a little bowl to dump into the pan so one didn’t get toasted more than another before I mushed (the technical term) them together with the peppers, onions and garlic.

IMG_1193This is my sauce pre-eggs. I’ll cop to having some uppity kitchen habits, and two of them are on display here: whole peeled canned tomatoes and block feta cheese. Buying only whole canned tomatoes and then pureeing/chopping/crushing them as needed is advice I got both from my nana (who is a phenomenal Italian cook) and Lidia Bastianich (if my nana wasn’t my nana, I’d want her). They are absolutely right about this – the texture is vastly improved. I used my food processor, but if you don’t have one you could just scoop out the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and chop them up on a cutting board before adding them in with the juices. I used the 365 brand canned tomatoes here and I did think they were a little watery – Cento is better. I like buying the blocks of feta in water because I find the pre-crumbled variety too dry. If you do that with this recipe, pat the block with a paper towel before crumbling it into the sauce, otherwise it will add too much moisture. Make sure to taste the seasoning, too – that much tomato requires a good amount of salt, otherwise the sauce will be very bland. The recipe doesn’t call for basil, but my basil plant is a monster and needed pruning – it definitely didn’t hurt!

IMG_1194Ta-daaaa! We figured two eggs per person was a good dinner portion. The recipe says to bake the eggs until the eggs are “just set”, which to me means set whites and runny yolks. She says 7-10 minutes, but my oven was finicky and it took more like 10-13 minutes. The full sauce recipe was a little excessive for this pan, so I scooped some out and put it in the fridge for baked eggs cups this weekend. It tasted phenomenal – the sweetness of the tomatoes is a great backdrop for the spices, which are flavorful but not overpowering by any means. I got some crusty bread for mopping up the extra sauce and that was all we needed for a satisfying dinner. If you’re thinking about going hard in the paint on this recipe, just do it.

It was a dark and stormy night…

No, really, it is. There is a massive line of thunderstorms working their way across greater Hartford at the moment, and I have a pretty good view through our curtainless sliding doors. As a time to be writing a first blog post, it adds a lot of ambiance. Still, I’ve got the flashlight next to me, just in case.

I’ve flirted with and rejected the idea of starting a blog dozens of times over the years, but this seems like the right time. I got married just over a year ago and since then, we’ve moved to a different state, I’ve changed jobs, and I’ve tried to start taking better care of my mental health. I’m hoping that this blog will help to organize my thoughts to help ease my anxiety, as well as serve as a place to document my various hobbies. Knitting and cooking are the activities that most effectively occupy and calm my mind, as well as give me a great sense of pleasure. This blog will also most likely feature a lot of this guy:

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Tiki is my family’s dog. He is 13.5 years old, intensely demanding, mostly deaf and utterly cute. He knows he has us all very well trained to do exactly as he wants, and I’m fine with it. Even my husband respects the sacredness of Tiki Time when we go to visit.

As for sassafrass – my papou (grandfather) calls me Miss Sassafrass when I’m being a wise-ass, and it is the only real nickname anyone has ever ascribed to me. I love it.