Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cookbook Therapy and Chocolate Steaks

I've mentioned the frightening number of cookbooks I own before. I have to be honest - they are an obsession of mine. I literally think of them as my 'jewels.' They take me to places and moments and memories I long for, and oddly, even to dinners and gatherings that haven't yet taken place. They are magical.

Thank the Lord we have a loft in our apartment (once slated for guests and/or a reading room but whose destiny has since turned into housing my cookbook library as well as seasonal decorations.)

When I am stressed or life worn or feeling fragile - I read cookbooks. When I am beaten down by long work hours and my attention span has been reduced to that of a guinea pig's and I can't fathom opening an actual book - I read cookbooks. When the city has gotten to me (don't get me wrong - I love New York more than I thought I could love a city, but occasionally we fight - such as when the hot water goes out and we have to track down our shady landlord which sometimes takes days... or the time I woke up early one Sunday morning and sprinted out to grab a cappucino, only to discover a massive pile of human poo in our entry way...)

The reasons go on. When I am posessed by the need to throw a party - I read cookbooks. You get my point - cookbooks are there for me from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. They reset my equilibrium when it needs resetting and kickstart my imagination when it begins winding up like an old clock.

So it's no surprise that for my birthday - I recieved a cookbook or two. And it's also no surprise that they came from some of the extraordinary cooks in my life - my sister Jennifer and my mother in law Charlotte.

For this post, I'm going to talk about one of the books from Charlotte called W.I.N.O.S. (are you trying to tell me something, Charlotte?;) W.I.N.O.S. (aka - Women in need of Sanity) features recipes that use chocolate or wine among the ingredients. And even though I'd just had steak a few nights before - guess which recipe first caught my eye?

New York strips with chocolate merlot sauce (I am my father's daughter, after all.) Now first off, don't geek out over the thought of this combination. After all, chocolate is a common ingredient in a classic chicken mole, as well as in some chili recipes. It's not really THAT crazy.

However, I knew when I set out to make this that a) I would make a few changes and b) the entire concept of putting chocolate into a sauce might not turn out to be quite the party I had hoped. And while I won't pretend this recipe is for everyone, I found it very tasty and unusual in a good way. As did Kris.

So, when your hormones are pumping on all cylinders and/or you want to try something unusual and new, I suggest - Steak AND Chocolate!

for 2

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (preferably Vidalia), thinly sliced
2 tspns minced garlic
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Merlot
1 T Garam Masala *
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tspn chopped fresh rosemary + sprigs for garnish

* Garam Masala is a traditional Indian spice mixture made up of ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, caraway, and mace or nutmeg. It's literal translation is 'hot' or 'warm spice' and it is an incredible thing to have in your pantry arsenal as its an instant shortcut to TONS of flavor. You can find it in most grocery stores in the spice section, or order it online from high end specialty stores, such as Dean and Deluca.

2 best quality New York strip steaks
2 T garam masala*
2 tspns fennel seeds
1/4 tspn kosher salt

Remove steaks from the fridge and unwrap the butcher paper. Sprinkle the garam masala powder, fennel seeds, and salt even over each steak, then rub the seasonings into the meat (ALL sides, especially into the fat and any nooks and crannies.) Let steaks sit at room temperature while you prepare the sauce.

To get the sauce going, heat a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil, letting it warm through, then toss in the onions, garlic, and jalapeno. Saute, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened and become transluscent. Add the Merlot, quickly bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the garam masala and chocolate, until chocolate has melted and sauce is smooth. Stir in the chopped rosemary and reduce heat to low just to keep the sauce warm until you're ready to serve.

Meanwhile, preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat (you can also 'grill' your steaks on an indoor grill pan set over your stove top on medium-high heat. Adjust grilling time as needed.) Using tongs, carefully place your steaks onto your grill, at an angle so you get those pretty grill marks. Leave them alone with the grill open for 4-5 minutes for medium, 6-7 minutes for well done. Carefully flip them, then shut the grill for 2-3 minutes. Open the grill for one more minute, then remove steaks to an aluminum lined baking sheet to rest. DO NOT cut into your steaks for at least 10 minutes, as they will continue to cook and juices will re-distribute.

When ready to serve, place each strip in the center of your plate, top with chocolate merlot sauce, and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pre-Birthday Dinner! (and so forth...)

Well, I can't even contain my excitement over my birthday this year. I had the best birthday since I can remember. Kris, sweetie that he is, remembered how important having a plain as butter, white cake is to me, and therefore searched all over the city to find the best (at least in my opinion.) On the eve of my b-day (July 3rd), he brought home a pink cake from Amy's (enough to feed 20 people!) and a beautiful vase of flowers.

That night I was inspired (don't ask me why - but I found turning 31 far less traumatic than any age in my 20's) to make a serious feast to kick off my birthday. All throughout work that day, I had day dreamed about fillet mignon with a lemon shallot mascarpone sauce, roasted asparagus, and little pizzettes topped with roasted figs, grapes, and pecorino. (If I told you how often I day dream about cooking while sitting in meetings, you would question how I've managed to stay employed over the years... I think it's perfectly normal. Some people get through the day by sneaking peaks at online porn; I myself surf Epicurious and with the stealthness of an experienced voyeur...)

The only problem was I had never made the steak sauce I was dreaming of, nor the pizzettes. But again, what draws me to cooking is the rebellious, shoot from the hip nature of it, and I forged ahead...

Figs, which are in season RIGHT NOW, proved to be the darlings when roasted in the oven, dotted over a toasted pita and topped with grated pecorino romano. (As did everyday grapes, which normally I can take or leave. After a leisurely scorching in the oven, they became sweet and carmelized and richer than anything you can imagine.)

Anyway - above are pics of how my birthday kick off meal turned out... The lemon shallot mascarpone sauce was delectable but I think the little pizzettes stole the show. Unfortunately, I didn't write anything down this time, but I'll add the recipes to this post next time I make them.

(Consequently, the rest of the pics are of my actual birthday. We got up in the morning and met friends for brunch at Freeman's then headed on to B Bar, Doc Holliday's, and finally PTD where, to my horror, I recall nearly downing a small tub of processed cheese with some tater tots... Ah well, to be a foodie is nothing more than to love food. And so it is.)