Whole30 Week 3: Vegan and Not-So Vegan

Asparagus & Fennel Soup by Amy Roth Photo

This week’s post is dedicated to Kenji Lopez-Alt, that test kitchen god (and managing culinary director at Serious Eats) whose recipes formed the backbone of the best meals I made this week. Only minor tweaks were necessary to make them Whole30-compliant; though I’m really starting to hate the word compliant, the adjustments seem to be coming to me naturally now. I’m still constantly hungry despite eating all the time and adding even more fat to my diet, but the cheese cravings aren’t constant, so I’m headed in the right direction. No tiger blood, either, but I always thought that was a long shot, anyway.

Lunch today was a fan-freaking-tastic soup of asparagus and fennel, found on Lopez-Alt’s Instagram feed. I took the basics and tweaked them a bit with what I had in the house and fell head over heels. I sautéed 1/2 large chopped onion with a small thinly sliced bulb of fennel and a finely chopped stalk of celery in olive oil until they were soft, then added one bunch of chopped asparagus (minus the tips, which I steamed) and half of a sliced russet potato and cooked them together for a few minutes. One quart of chicken stock, salt to taste and some simmering later, I blitzed the soup in my Vitamix and lunch was served. I love simple, seasonal recipes, don’t you? I may try to accentuate the fennel flavor next time with a splash of Herbsaint, but honestly found the soup to be perfectly balanced this way. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Cast Iron Steak & Vegan Creamed Spinach by Amy Roth Photo

A more substantial meal came in the form of a stovetop-cooked ribeye and vegan creamed spinach, which may sound like an odd combination, but hear me out. When you’re eating so much meat in one sitting (though not that much — Gil and I split the steak), there’s no need to go overboard with real creamed spinach. It’s just too much. And honestly, I found the flavors of this vegan dish much more pleasing and less muted than I do with the standard recipe. Blended cauliflower and almond milk form the base of the “cream” and are just brilliant at that job. I did add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy tang, but otherwise cooked it according to the recipe.

The steak followed the Serious Eats recipe I use exclusively during winter, when the thought of standing at my grill would be enough to keep me from eating steak at all if not for this method of indoor cooking. I did use ghee instead of butter and could definitely taste a difference, but the steak was excellent anyway, so no complaints there.

I did have a couple of small cheats this week. When I couldn’t stand the thought of preparing one more meal, Gil whisked me away to a BBQ joint where I had smoked beef with a side of mashed potatoes that might have (probably) had milk and/or butter in them. I felt fine after, so no worries for me! Then, at a meeting I attended Tuesday, I had one Terra Chip which was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Tasted In My Life. I can’t even lie. Fried potatoes (though this was taro, I believe) are absolutely my trigger food and that chip was like a drug that left me wanting more. I don’t know where I got this self-control, but am very happy for it, because otherwise I’d be sitting on my living room floor covered in grease and crumbs.

Then again, Benny would probably take care of the crumbs situation. I haven’t really shared about it here, but we lost both Ru and Otis over the last two years, which was just heartbreaking. Ru left us only in December of last year, so we waited as long as we could, but finally adopted another greyhound just three weeks ago! He’s the sweetest little guy with a funny bark and a much bigger brain than Ru and Otis put together — it’s a little scary to watch him figuring things out. He’s still a little camera-shy, so no decent photos yet, but if you’d like to follow him on Instagram, he’s precocious and has his own account. And while you’re there, follow me, too! I try to post everyday, so there’s always something delicious to see.

I’m planning to end Whole30 a few days early next Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with friends. We’re planning for dim sum and I don’t want to miss out on everything but steamed vegetables. But I’ll behave. Mostly. See you next week!

Whole 30 Starts Now

Mustard Greens Soup with Beef from Bon Appetit Magazine

Like so many others, I’ve decided to take the Whole 30 plunge (after avoiding it for what seems like years). About seven years ago, I tried the primal thing and discovered within a week that much of the joint pain, inflammation and stomach issues I’d had for years subsided when I removed wheat from my diet. It only got me about to about 80% of where I needed to be, though, so I knew an elimination diet would be in the cards at some point. But I’ve let things slide because I’m a professional-level rationalizer who can find an excuse to fit any situation in which delicious trigger foods are present:

  • I’m shooting this amazing dish for a cookbook and it’s already prepared. It’d be a shame to just toss it out!
  • I had a few bites yesterday. A donut and some pizza couldn’t possibly make things worse today. (Oh, but they can.)
  • I’ll just suck it up. If a little pain is the price to pay for eating (insert literally anything I shouldn’t be eating), then I’ll deal. I’m a tough cookie!

But after a particularly bad reaction to bulgur wheat last week that left me hobbling around the house for two days, I decided to get real. There’s no virtue in suffering nor vice in self-care. Now that all of our special occasion dinners have been enjoyed — years are front-loaded with birthdays and anniversaries in this family — I’m doing this thing.

Shopping for Whole 30-compliant pantry staples involved some label reading because sugar hides in so many places, but this did give me a chance to finally try Red Boat Fish Sauce and Califia Farms Almond Milk, both of which I highly recommend. We have a fabulous “farmers’ market” one town over that carries an abundant and varied supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, so I’ll be hitting that even more often than I already do.

One day in, I don’t notice a huge difference. My breakfasts aren’t often all that breakfast-y and yesterday was no exception, when I had a favorite of mine, citrus (pink grapefruit in this case) with cubed avocado, salt & pepper. An apple Larabar made a nice snack, and I lightly adapted Bon Appetit’s Spicy Pork with Mustard Greens Soup for lunch and dinner by using grass-fed beef (no pork available) and zucchini noodles.

Whole 30-compliant Bon Appetit's Spicy Pork with Mustard Greens Soup by Amy Roth Photo

I think the spiralizer’s going to be my friend for the next month. It’s one purchase I honestly love and use often, unlike a lot of other single-use kitchen tools. You can find it here, if you want to check it out (that’s an Amazon affiliate link, fyi).

The only complete fail so far was golden milk made with coconut milk for compliance with the no-dairy portion of Whole 30. I’m sure the coconut milk would be a fine substitute with no other change in variables, but the drink was honestly disgusting without the hint of sweetness molasses gives it. My tongue recoiled from it, the same way it did that one time I sampled baking chocolate. Blech. So I’ll stick to my regular beverages — coffee, plain tea and seltzer.

I can’t promise I’ll blog every day — in fact, I can promise you I won’t — but I will try to get here regularly to post good recipes and let you know how things are going.

Have you done Whole 30? What was your experience like? I’m really curious to hear.

For the Love of Tri-Tip

Feast or famine: Ain’t that always the way?

Not so long ago, my business was in famine mode with few clients or projects as the year wound down. I wasn’t too concerned about it, because that seems to be the case for me each year around that time, and sure enough, as January rolled around, things picked up to such a degree that I was always busy planning for or shooting a new project. Which is awesome! I love being in demand (and the money doesn’t hurt either), but it left me with little time or inclination for cooking.

So I’m working on finding balance in my life now and I’m rediscovering my love of cooking in the process. The fact that it’s grilling season doesn’t hurt.

Rummaging through the freezer a couple of weeks ago, I found a tri-tip from Lone Mountain Wagyu that was just begging to live in my belly:

Tri Tip with Rub | Amy Roth Photo

Preparation was simple; I followed the same steps I did when we last had tri-tip, except I opted for the Santa Maria Rub from Simply Recipes instead of the simple salt/pepper/garlic powder rub from the first time.  It was delicious — OF COURSE — though I’m not sure I needed to go to the extra effort of making the Santa Maria Rub. I mean, it had great flavor, but this wagyu tri-tip is a fabulous cut of meat that would shine in any circumstance, so it felt a little like gilding the lily. That said, I do love a good, vinegary chimichurri with fattier cuts of meat just for the bracing counterpoint. It’s a match made in heaven here, IMHO, so give it a try.

See the original ti-tip post here. Find the recipe for a fantastic chimichurri here. And enjoy grilling season. I know I will.

Primal Check-in

Hi again. Just checking in with more Primal recipes from the past week. Gil’s birthday was this weekend, so we celebrated with lunch at Mistral Restaurant in Princeton Saturday afternoon. I’ve been dying to go back ever since the photoshoot I did there over the summer and am happy to report that time didn’t cloud my memory at all; the food was just as fantastic as I remembered.

But even with the extravagant dining, I made the smartest choices I could — cheese plate for dessert, no bread or anything with wheat explicitly listed on the menu — and walked out without feeling cheated in any way.

I mentioned our love of Thai food in my last post. Specifically, there’s an amazing warm coconut milk and peanut butter salad dressing that our new favorite local Thai restaurant (Thai Jasmine in Bloomingdale, NJ) makes, and I decided I needed to have a go at it. Extensive online searching didn’t turn up anything that sounded quite right, so I turned to my copy of Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking and found just the thing! I used a full can of coconut milk instead of just one cup as directed in the recipe, but found the balance of the rest of the ingredients — sweet, salty, sour and spicy — undiminished. It topped a simple salad of shaved Napa cabbage, baby spinach, cilantro and lime juice.

Salad with Peanut Dressing | Amy Roth Photo

But man does not live by salad alone, so I made a rich carrot soup to accompany it. You can see from the photo at the top of the post that it was vibrant enough to ward off even the grayest day. Again, the key to Thai cooking is balancing the various flavors and even though this recipe isn’t in any way traditional, I think I did a pretty good job of it. I roasted the carrots to heighten their sweetness so I wouldn’t have to add sugar to the dish, added some cauliflower to keep the texture smooth and velvety and spiced it up at the end with a judicious sprinkling of dried Thai red peppers. Check out the recipe at the end of this post.

Chili | Amy Roth Photo

After being cooped up in the house for the better part of a week, 15 degree temps were NOT going to keep us from our regular Sunday morning greyhound hike. We were all going a little stir crazy. While doing about four miles bundled up will keep you from freezing in place, it still took several hours (and a long nap) to warm up once we were home. This chili took the last of the edge off. I made it with grass-fed beef and about a cup of smoked brisket that came home with us after the Christmas holidays. To amp up the nutrition, I added lots of carrots and celery, then finished it off with mustard greens and baby spinach leaves. Grass-fed cheese and pickled jalapenos added creaminess and a vibrant pop of flavor.

Baked Sweet Potato | Amy Roth Photo

And then we went really basic for lunch today. I microwaved two sweet potatoes and topped them with some grass-fed butter and sautéed garlicky leftover greens, featuring the undressed leftover salad from above with mustard greens for flavor. And for such a simple lunch, it was packed with flavor. Definitely a winner and something that can be put on the table in less than 30 minutes.

I’m really happy with the way this challenge is going. In fact, I’ve decided to join the official Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge that started at Mark’s Daily Apple today!

Thai-Spiced Roasted Carrot Soup

Allergy Fish
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Main Dish, Soup, Starter
This gluten-free/dairy-free soup relies on roasting the carrots for extra sweetness, then balancing them with sour, salty and spicy elements common in Thai cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 1lb organic carrots (scrubbed)
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 Medium yellow or white onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (chopped)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 head cauliflower (broken into florets)
  • 1 roasted red pepper (chopped)
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • water
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • salt (to taste)
  • dried Thai red peppers

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss whole carrots with 2 teaspoons olive oil and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest part of the thickest carrot. Cool, then coarsely chop carrots.
In a large pot, heat remaining 3 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. When oil shimmers in the pan, add chopped onion, garlic and celery and sauté until softened. Add Thai curry paste and turmeric, mix well with sautéed vegetables, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add carrots, cauliflower, roasted red pepper and coconut milk to pot and stir well. Add water to come about 3/4 of the way up the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to keep at a simmer until cauliflower has softened.
In a high speed blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth and creamy. Wipe out pot and pour soup back into it. Season with lime juice and fish sauce to taste and add salt, if necessary. Garnish with dried pepper flakes.

Let’s Prime the Pumps

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge this month, and it’s going really well! I’ve cooked more in three days than I usually do in a week and everything’s been healthy and delicious, not to mention economical with all of the leftovers. And while I didn’t do this to lose weight, I’ve already dropped a little Christmas padding from my midsection, so I’m excited to continue after seeing such fast results.

Why are you doing this challenge, anyway?

My diet is pretty good overall, but what started as an occasional treat (a little dessert here, some pizza or a slice of bread there) became the rule rather than the exception. Knowing that wheat does a number on me and that my weekly burger and fries weren’t doing me any favors either, I decided plunging headfirst into an eating plan that eliminated the bad stuff and encouraged more good stuff was the way to go. (YMMV, of course.) Making it easier was just how crappy I felt after all of my Christmas indulgences.

Without getting too preachy or going into too much detail — you can find all the information you need and then some here — I’m concentrating on the following:

  • Eliminating grains, legumes, vegetable oils and refined sugars. (This is the most important part for me, though I’ll add legumes back in small quantities after the 21-day mark.)
  • Loading my meals with lots of fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eating quality fish and pastured/grass-fed meats and eggs.
  • Eating good, satiating fats — grass-fed animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil are doing me right right now. 

And that’s basically it.

Our meals so far

I decided against a daily post because I’m cooking enough to make leftovers, so there isn’t always something new to share, plus we’re still eating out once a week. 

Primal Beef Shank Braise | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 1 – Braised Beef Shin

My decision to make this braise was made for me when I discovered the door to our big freezer open and this shin partially thawed. It’s from Snoep Winkel Farm, where all of the beef they sell is grass-fed and pigs and chickens are pastured. I also love them because Basia & Gary keep me supplied with beef tongue, organ meats and chicken feet whenever they’re available. Yum!

Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques because you can be pretty imprecise and still turn out an excellent meal. Just remember a few simple steps:

  • brown your meat to create a fond in the pan
  • deglaze the pan with whatever liquid you like
  • don’t completely cover the meat with liquid, but leave a little sticking out from the top
  • braise covered in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours

I used the vegetables available to me — onions, celery, garlic, carrots and mushrooms — plus about 1/2 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes and served it over spaghetti squash and topped it with a sharp, garlicky gremolata. It was a rich, satisfying dish and the perfect way to kick off this new eating plan. If you’re not familiar with braising and you’d like a basic recipe to follow, try this recipe for short rib ragu and adapt it any way you like.

Primal Beef Shank Braise with Spaghetti Squash | Amy Roth Photo


 

Primal Chicken Vegetable Soup | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 2 – Chicken & Vegetable Soup

This meal took advantage of a leftover roasted chicken half plus made liberal use of our vegetable crisper drawer and freezer. When tomatoes and cilantro are in market, I make batches upon batches of Daisy Martinez’s sofrito and freeze them in 1/2-cup portions to use throughout the winter when I need to add a little zing to my meals. (It also makes the task of cooking a full meal much less onerous if all you have to do is sauté frozen seasonings instead of chopping onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, etc. before you even turn on the stove.)

I chopped the chicken and put it aside as the bones simmered in 1 quart chicken stock plus 1 quart water. I chopped up a few celery stalks, a few carrots and broke half a head of cauliflower into small florets. In a pan with olive oil set over medium heat, I cooked the frozen sofrito until it had released its water and softened, then I added the carrots and celery to cook for a few minutes and added a big pinch of kosher salt. I fished out the bones from the stock and added the sofrito mixture with the chopped Pomi tomatoes I didn’t use in the braise. I let it simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots were nearly softened, then added the cauliflower and chicken to the pot along with a package of frozen peas (I LOVE peas in my vegetable soup) and half a package of French-cut green beans. Once the veggies were softened and seasonings adjusted, we were ready to eat. And we’re still eating it, two days later! Gotta love soup.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can dress this up: Add a parmesan rind to the broth early on for extra savoriness, add a little pesto to each bowl of soup, add other vegetables as your heart desires, top with sesame oil and/or Sriracha…you get the point. It’s soup! How hard can it be?


 

Gluten-Free, Primal Za'atar Crackers Side | Amy Roth Photo

A Snack — Almond Crackers with Za’atar

Snacks are the big downfall of healthy eating plans for a lot of people. You want something quick and satisfying, but not necessarily a piece of fruit or the old standby, carrot sticks and hummus. Well, these primal-friendly crackers from Elana’s Pantry are just perfect. She has several cracker recipes on her website, but I chose to adapt the recipe for salt and pepper crackers by eliminating the pepper and halving the salt, brushing the rolled-out dough with olive oil and dusting it liberally with za’atar and crunchy finishing salt before cutting and baking.

All of Elana’s recipes use finely ground almond flour, so Bob’s Red Mill is out, unfortunately. It’s great for recipes that need something more coarsely ground like meal, but doesn’t work with the recipes on her website. I’ve had luck with Honeyville, Wellbee’s, and JK Gourmet brands.

You know how much I love za’atar, right? It’s a generic name for popular Middle Eastern blends of dried herbs and spices. There are all sorts of varieties out there, but my favorite ones tend to be heavy on sumac and sesame. The blend I bought at Penzey’s (where it’s called “zatar”) is delicious, but I’ve been just as happy with all of the varieties I’ve found at Kalustyan’s over the years. I’m sure any number of other spice shops would have it, too, so explore and enjoy!


A Word About Fats

I’ve been obsessed with coconut ghee for the past week; it’s replaced any other oil I used to use for sautéeing. You can buy it online, but it’s easy to make and lasts a while at room temperature, so there’s really no need to spend extra for it. All you do is add coconut oil to grass-fed clarified butter and you have a delicious, healthy fat with a high smoke point. I loaded up on a high-quality coconut oil from Tropical Traditions* the last time they had a sale — which they do often, so sign up for email reminders — and use it a lot, but it does taste fairly coconutty, so cutting it with clarified butter eliminates that flavor while retaining all of the benefits of coconut oil. If you’d like to use just coconut oil, they have a wonderful, neutral-tasting expeller-pressed oil, but I like the coconut ghee so much, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back to it.

What About Breakfast and What Do You Drink?

Oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, grits and toast are out, which seems like a big deal until you realize you can have all of the pastured eggs and bacon you want. Actually, I don’t often want to start my day with a big meal, so I’ve been sticking with my green shakes. I’ve never enjoyed sweet smoothies, so what I have is more like a salad in a glass than the fruit-heavy shakes you might be thinking of. I know that’s a hard sell, but if that sort of thing appeals to you, I posted a general recipe here. These days, I add kefir and ginger and don’t really bother with the apple or cucumber, but as with so much of what I make, it changes depending on what’s at hand.

And as for drinks, I cut out all soda long ago, so that’s been easy. I drink water, seltzer, coffee and tea, plus the occasional glass of red wine, which is beneficial to both health and outlook!

*If you order by clicking on any of my Tropical Traditions links and have never ordered from them in the past, you’ll receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I’ll receive a discount coupon for referring you. Same goes for Amazon, minus the coconut oil book.

Season’s Grillings

Sitting at my computer with the windows open, a cool breeze occasionally lifting the scent of the charcoal grill from my top, I am a happy girl. My tailbone is still painful, but getting better everyday. If I can find anything to be thankful for in this situation, it’s that I’ve had to slow down. I’ll start a full-time summer job at my former company this Wednesday, so I’ve been shooting and designing freelance projects until I can’t anymore, then taking advantage of my few remaining days at home by taking naps when my body demands them. I’ll miss semi-retirement for the next few months.

I’m writing this Saturday, as Gil is preparing to leave for a business trip to Scotland. I thought he could use a good meal before his redeye flight, so I sent him off with grilled steak, garlic scapes and asparagus. And because I plan to cook more large meals on weekends to bring for lunch during the week, I used a small-yet-sizable flank steak bought from the Snoep Winkel Farm booth at the market this morning. There was no time to marinate the beef before lunch, so instead I relied on a dry rub plus grilled garlic scape purée to impart flavor.

Grilled Garlic Scapes | Minimally Invasive

Garlic scape pesto is really popular, but I’ve never really liked it. The flavor is just too overpowering for me, but I can eat my weight in grilled scapes, which turn mellow and smoky after spending time over hot coals. I thought it would be fine to pound them into a paste with a mortar and pestle, but quickly realized that I’d be in the kitchen all day if I relied only on my own power, so the food processor took over. But the stone mortar and pestle are so pretty, I had to continue styling with it.

Grilled Garlic Scape Mash | Minimally Invasive

The purée is really nothing more than garlic scapes, olive oil, salt, lemon juice and red wine vinegar, but it cut right through the tiny bit of fat in the grass-fed beef and gave each bite an extra hit of smokey goodness. Highly recommended, if you have access to scapes and a grill.

Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic Scape Purée

Serves 6
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
Garlic scapes are in season and so is grilling. Thank goodness grilled flank steak was made for garlic scape purée.

Ingredients

For the garlic scape purée

  • garlic scapes (a few handfuls)
  • olive oil, divided
  • Diamond kosher salt
  • lemon juice
  • red wine vinegar

For the flank steak

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon aleppo pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 grass-fed flank steak (about two pounds)

Note

Instructions are for grass-fed beef, which tends to be a bit leaner than grain-fed, so you don't want to overcook it. This cooking time produced a medium-rare steak for me, but monitor your steak closely. Remember, you can always cook your steak longer, but you can't uncook it!

Directions

GARLIC SCAPE PURÉE
Heat gas grill to high or build a hot fire in a charcoal grill.
Wash and dry garlic scapes and trim off the thin tail end, just beyond where the bulb attaches to the stalk.
Toss scapes with a little olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt.
Once charcoals have a layer of white ash on them, clean the grill with a wire brush. Add garlic scapes to the grill in one layer and cover with lid. Grill for a few minutes then flip.
Garlic scapes are done with both sides are blistered and blackened in spots and scapes are tender. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a bit before handling.
Chop garlic scapes and pulse in food processor until a paste forms. Scapes are fibrous, so it won't be smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of red wine vinegar, a few tablespoons of olive oil and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
GRILLED FLANK STEAK
Combine sugar, black pepper, aleppo pepper, garlic powder and salt in a small ramekin. Sprinkle over both sides of flank steak and press into surface.
For medium-rare steak, grill over high heat for 3-4 minutes, then turn the steak 90° and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Flip steak over and grill for 3-4 minutes, then turn the steak 90° and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from grill and tent with foil for 5 minutes before slicing very thinly across the grain and serving with garlic scape purée.

 

Steak, Spinach and Another Cookbook Giveaway

Cast Iron Ribeye Steak | Amy Roth Photo

UPDATE: Congratulations to Sarah Cordes, winner of the cookbook Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan! 

To say I’ve been in a cooking rut would give the wrong impression entirely; it isn’t so much a little ennui-filled rut as it is the Grand Canyon. Gil doesn’t cook and doesn’t much care if I do, so we’ve been eating out a lot and I’ve been making little things here and there, uninspiring things that are fine (she said with a sigh), but not new and certainly not blog-worthy. Getting through the slump has taken a while, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve made it out just yet, but time will tell. I’ve had my periods of kitchen disinterest, but this was another thing entirely and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it, to be honest. So I just started reading again, reading without an agenda or in service to dinner, just for the sheer enjoyment of experiencing food on the page again. And when I happened across an article in last week’s New York Times outlining a different way of preparing a steak on the stovetop, something just clicked.

See, I’m a sucker for technique-refinement and experimentation. If there’s a new way to do something, an avenue that promises better results than the tried and true, I am there, my friend. It’s why I trust America’s Test Kitchen implicitly and why Kenji Lopez-Alt’s version of the pan-seared steak at Serious Eats became my go-to method for cooking steaks indoors during the long winter. I might’ve considered breaking out my grill for a steak now that Spring has arrived, but for the Times’ refinement of his method, which calls for salting the pan rather than the steak to form a nice crust.

Cast Iron Steak Close-Up | Amy Roth Photo

And what a crust it was! I salted my cast iron pan and put it over high heat to prepare it for the steak. And this is where my amazing American Range comes in handy. 23,000 BTUs got the pan smoking in no time at all, and it only took about six minutes of frequent flipping to reach an internal temperature of 120°F, though I should’ve pulled it off the heat just a little bit sooner because I prefer my beef somewhat bloodier than this. But that’s a minor thing and easily rectified the next time I try it. Because you know what? I like a grilled steak, but I don’t always want that smoky flavor. (I also promise to sharpen my knives this very weekend.)

Dorie Greenspan's Steamed Spinach | Amy Roth Photo

Part of my intensive reading plan involved going back through my cookbook collection to see what I could glean from the masters. I always learn something useful and eye-opening from Dorie Greenspan, so I pulled out her cookbook Around My French Table to see what she had to say on the subject of spinach — because you can’t have steak without spinach, at least not in this house. And once again, she blew my mind with a technique for STEAMED SPINACH that guarantees flavor rather than flaccid, bland leaves. I won’t give away the recipe here, but she simply turns the dish on its head and dresses the spinach BEFORE cooking it so the flavor (in this case, lemon rind) penetrates the spinach as it steams. It’s brilliant.

No, SHE’S brilliant. I’ve been a big fan for a long time and can’t gush enough about her conversational tone and spot-on recipes. I suppose what I appreciate most about the recipes is the thought she puts into each one. Just as in the steamed spinach recipe, her technique takes an ordinary dish to something extraordinary by tweaking it with just a little extra care. From whirring a pudding in your food processor to aerate and lend a silky texture to the detailed instructions for turning out the perfect chocolate chunkers, her advice always yields stellar results.

And I want you to experience it, too. I have an extra copy of Around My French Table, which I’d love to give away to one lucky reader. I can’t guarantee it’ll pull you out of a cooking funk, but I suspect it might just. At the very least, it’ll elevate your cooking by several degrees, which will benefit you greatly. To enter, fill out the form below and I’ll post the winner here next Saturday! Good luck!

Winner, Winner, Tri-Tip Dinner

Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weather last week (Seriously, Spring, make up your melon.) gave way to meteorological perfection for Memorial Day, which was the clearest sign imaginable that I was meant to break out the grill. Our freezer has no shortage of candidates for such an endeavor, but I decided something special was in order to pay proper tribute to grilling season, so out came the Wagyu tri-tip I’d been saving for the right occasion.

Tri-tip is a thick, nicely marbled cut popular in California, but isn’t something you normally see around here. I had the opportunity to buy one from Lone Mountain Wagyu when it was featured in a Blackboard Eats email and believe me, I jumped on that deal with both feet! Something new to me and Wagyu, to boot? I’m almost certain I placed the first order after the special went live.

Then I waited. And waited some more. Sure, I could have cooked it in the kitchen à la Bittman at any time over the past few months, but our hood drowns out noise more effectively than it removes smoke, so holding out for “summer” gave me the opportunity to practice patience each time I opened the freezer door. Oh, but the waiting is the hardest part.

Wagyu-Tri-Tip-@-Minimally-Invasive

I decided to go for the simplest Santa Maria-style preparation imaginable, rubbing the steak with nothing more than one part garlic powder to two parts each salt and pepper. That blend tasted right to me, though you may want to change things up a bit. Next time around (and there will be a next time), I’ll try the blend recommended at Simply Recipes. I wanted to keep things very basic for my first time out, though, to really taste the beef without much interference.

Wagyu-Tri-Tip-Rub-@-Minimally-Invasive

I seasoned it pretty aggressively because it’s such a thick cut of meat — a roast, really, more than a steak. As recommended at Simply Recipes, I seared it over high heat on all sides, then covered the grill and cooked over low heat, flipping every five minutes or so, until the interior temperature registered 125-130 degrees. (I like my meat a little bloody.) I took it off the grill and loosely tented it with foil while I made a big Greek salad that let us pretend we were eating with health in mind. To cut through what I knew would be a very rich experience, I made my standard chimichurri with shallots subbed for onions and without the red bell pepper.

I feel I’m stating the obvious, but it was an i n s a n e l y good meal. I’m no stranger to grilled meats, but this might be the best I’ve turned out yet, all thanks to Lone Mountain Wagyu. Do check them out if you’re feeling indulgent or are looking for something amazing to serve your friends at a summer cookout. Their animals are treated humanely and pasture-raised, so the only guilt I felt at this meal was caloric. But even then, it was only a small twinge, easily ignored in the face of such beauty.

Wagyu-Tri-Tip-Close-Up-@-Minimally-Invasive

Day 16, Swedish Meatballs

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 16
Like Christmas on a plate, wouldn’t you say?

A few weeks ago, Gil and I grabbed lunch with friends at Red Rooster after recording that week’s Virtual Memories podcast in the neighborhood. The restaurant came highly recommended, but I still managed to be surprised by the range of dishes on the menu and how perfectly executed they all were. But if we’ve learned anything from The Highlander, it’s that there can be only one, and I was declared the winner of the ordering war with my somewhat unorthodox lunch: Swedish meatballs with a side of cheese grits.

I can’t say these meatballs are exactly like the ones in the restaurant, even though I followed Marcus Samuelsson‘s recipe to the letter, save for the gluten-free breadcrumbs. Still, they’re well worth your time and far better than any other Swedish meatballs I’ve eaten, barring the original at Red Rooster.

I buy only pastured veal, which is part of  a much larger discussion about animal welfare I hope to get into soon. Whole Foods can be a good resource, though I prefer to stick to vendors at my local farmers’ market whenever possible. If you’re uncomfortable eating veal at all, I’d probably substitute equal parts ground beef and ground pork for it.

Get the recipe here.

From the Market: Burgers & Whiskey Edition

with fontina and steak sauce
Grass-fed beef from Snoep Winkel Farm, Curly-leaf lettuce from Bialas Farms

C’est fini!

I took the last shot for the cookbook earlier this afternoon, and not a moment too soon. A house-shaking thunderclap just sent poor Ru scurrying to the guest bedroom and the skies are so dark that I couldn’t have gotten another good natural-light shot anyway. Ahhhh…it’s a great feeling to wrap up such a lengthy project!

The burger was my reward for squeezing in an extra shot yesterday. A couple of the ingredients were extras from the recipes I was working on (out-of-season tomatoes, something I’d never buy for myself, and fontina cheese), so I threw together a burger for lunch. Talk about luscious! I tossed a little garlic and copious black pepper into well-salted ground beef and cooked the patties to medium. Gary & Basia‘s grass-fed beef is so good, it really doesn’t need much fussing, but I was feeling a little indulgent and topped it with quite a lot of fontina and some steak sauce before digging in. I ate so much I nearly convinced myself I was having a heart attack. Hah! Scary, but so good, I’ll probably do it again because I just don’t learn.

rye, cognac, St. Germain

THIS. This amazing creature is the Carré Reprisé, a recipe I found while searching for drinks with rye and St. Germain, which fight for top honors on my list of favorite boozes. Normally, I’m not a coganc drinker and wouldn’t have it on hand, but I still had most of a bottle in the pantry from a shoot last summer (told you I don’t drink the stuff!), so I gave it a try and was well-rewarded for stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s a great drink for a cool, rainy day when you don’t have much to do; at the very least, it’s something you want to savor. Ferociously smooth with a slight bright finish from the lemon twist, I’ll certainly keep this in my arsenal. (And in keeping with my struggle to eat as locally as possible, I made it with Tuthilltown Spirits Rye, so yeah…points for that or something.)

But no rest for the wicked. Now it’s time to do a little more processing so I can ship the photos off to the author tomorrow! Hope you all had a great weekend; I’ll be back next week with more goodies from the market!

recipe after the jump

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