Sunday, November 15, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends

I don't consider myself to be a cook, by any stretch of the imagination, although I have a few meals that I do prepare well (one of them is chicken soup with rice. I make really good chicken soup; my mom taught me how. Hers is stupendous.) My younger sisters are much more at home in the kitchen than I am; sister B has taken classes and was considering going to culinary school at one point. I would prefer to eat the meal than create it. As a result, I don't take a lot of risks in the kitchen. I make what I know how to make, and I make enough of it to last for several nights.

My good friend RJ is a kick ass cook - she went to culinary school and it shows. I have been fortunate enough to have been a recipient of several cooking lessons from her. As a result, I can now chop up vegetables properly (well, sort of - some pieces are more uniform than others), prepare a delicious risotto, and am no longer afraid to cook steak in my small apartment kitchen.

Steak is like the library for me (in terms of food) - something awesome, filled with things I love, but completely intimidating to visit (or in this case, do) on your own. I would order it out, but wouldn't cook it at home. My sister K grills all the time, but, as I don't have any outdoor space for a grill, I am limited to cooking on my gas stove. I just didn't think that pan fried steak could possibly be as tasty as one cooked on the grill. Enter RJ and her steak lesson.

The first thing I needed to figure out was what to look for in a steak at the grocery store. I wanted to pick a cut I liked to eat that also fit in my budget. So now I buy either a strip steak or a rib eye, keeping an eye out for the pieces with nice marbling. After defrosting it in the fridge, I take it out about 10 minutes before planning to cook it to allow it to come to room temperature. I coat the steak in a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

After the ten minutes is up (I use this time to start cooking the side dishes - tonight's were spinach and buttered noodles), I put the pan on the stove and let it warm up to a medium high temperature. (You put your hand over the pan to judge the heat. Just don't get burned.) Then I put the steak in the pan and sear each side for about a minute. Then I turn down the gas to a medium low flame and let the meat cook for about 7 minutes on each side until the steak is cooked to medium, just the way I like it.

Because I have been watching "Good Morning America"'s segments about E. Coli, which has me freaked out, I cooked tonight's steak a little bit longer than I normally would. Fortunately, it was only to medium well and not well done like I had feared when I first took it out of the pan. Funny thing is that when I was younger, I wouldn't eat meat that was remotely pink. My dad always left my burgers on the grill longer than anyone else's, and I would only eat the ends of the Christmas roast. Now, I want my meat done medium/medium rare. It is funny how our tastes change as we get older. (I still don't like tomatoes though, and I can't imagine that I ever will.)

It is thanks to RJ that I am happily eating steak dinners on Sundays and that I have gained some confidence in branching out to cook things that I normally would feel overwhelmed by. It's all about confidence and practice, as so many things are. I certainly won't be taking on Mastering the Art of French Cooking any time soon, but there definitely will be more red meat in my home menu preparation.

Now if we could just sort out the E. coli problem (and heart disease too, while we are at it).

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