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.
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.)
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!