Friday, June 27, 2008

Under the Solstice Sun

Last weekend, we celebrated Katie's birthday and her new home in Stamford, Connecticut. (Can you believe I have friends who are already buying condos in the 'burbs and moving out there with their boyfriends??)

Katie and Chris (the boyfriend) ordered live crawfish from Louisiana and boiled it up under the sweltering sun -- felt just like NOLA! It was so hot the cheese melted on the plate, but I had my wide-brimmed hat and a pretty summer dress to keep me just cool enough to brave the barbecue. At about 5 p.m., when the oppressive solstice sun was mocking us with its sloooow descent into the West, we fired her up.

Luckily, there wasn't much to grill: just one great big flank steak and two corns on the cob, and I covered the grill and let the trio do their thing while I hightailed it to the single patch of shade.

How might so little feed so many? A salad, naturally Using strips of beef as an interloping ingredient among a riot of vegetables is a smarty-pants way to stretch one fantastic piece of ethically-raised, grass-fed bovine. And it also happens to be the way us omnivores should be eating, period.

I was (very, very loosely) inspired by a 1938 recipe for "Planked Porterhouse Steak," published by Rex Stout in Too Many Cooks -- an excellent title for a cookbook, don't you think? The steak gets its name because it is first grilled over a fire and then finished under the broiler, on a well-seasoned oak plank (instead of a baking pan), brushed with olive oil and surrounded with "a border of fluffy mashed potatoes." Just before serving, Stout brushed butter, sprinkled salt and pepper, and squeezed a bit of lime over the undoubtedly glorious-looking creation.

It's too hot to turn on the broiler, too hot to eat mashed potatoes, just too hot. But lime? Lime I can do. And grilling? That's practically my middle name (okay, not even close, but I can hold my own.)

A second inspiration was Marion Cabelle Tyree's "Meat Flavoring" from Housekeeping in Old Virginia (1878). The vinegar-based, highly-seasoned elixir is for the busy maid on the go: "As the housekeeper is sometimes hurried in preparing a dish, it will save time and trouble for her to keep on hand a bottle of meat-flavoring." Why, I couldn't agree more. And if you have found, as I have, that it's so hard to find good help these days -- the kind that flavors the meat on my plate -- then I suggest you print out the recipe below and pin it to her pinafore. The marinade I came up with (which is nothing like Miss Marion's) is a doozy.

On came together in a Latin-influenced salad of grilled corn, red peppers, avocado and mixed greens topped with strips of medium-rare steak marinated in lime and cilantro. It was, frankly, awesome. I just love it when a

And now, back to packing for a one-night camping trip for my friend Liz's birthday (we got her a tent but shh! It's a surprise.)

I'll be taking on "A Michigan Receipt for Making Shortcake in Camp," an 1876 recipe that calls for the aid of an Indian guide and a smooth sapling for a rolling pin. But this is Putnam County, NY, mere minutes from a Metro-North station -- not Lewis and Clark country. My Indian guide is bringing blueberries.

Solstice Steak Salad

1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank steak, preferably ethically-raised and grass-fed (you can taste the difference)

For the marinade:
3/4 cup lime juice
1/4 olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
Big pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning blend
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne
A few good cranks of freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
2 ears of corn, shucked
2 small-t0-medium red bell peppers, or 1 large, sliced into thin strips
1 avocado, sliced into thin strips
4 green onions, chopped
8 cups mixed greens

For the dressing:
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Big pinch of kosher salt
A few good cranks of freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients. Place in a Ziploc bag with the steak (easy to bring it outside to the grill) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat your grill. Get all your salad ingredients ready. Place the greens in a salad bowl or on a serving platter and arrange the other bits prettily on top (except the corn).
  3. About ten minutes before grilling, toss the corn cobs into the steak marinade. Once the grill is hot, put the steak above the fire and the corn on the upper rack or in the corner, away from direct flame. Cover and grill for about 5-6 minutes, then turns the steaks and corn and grill another 5-6 minutes for medium-rare. Let the steak and corn cool completely, then slice the steak(across the grain) into strips about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the kernels off the corn.
  4. Make the dressing by slowly adding the olive oil to the lime juice while whisking. Stir in the cilantro, salt, and pepper. Taste and correct the seasonings, if desired. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Arrange the steak strips on top and sprinkle with the corn. Serve to the delight and amazement of your friends.

Makes enough for 12-16 people as a side dish or 8 people as a main course.


~~Louise~~ said...

So glad I dropped in again in time for this post. As a cookbook collector, (although, I'm still searching for the Rex Stout book) I'm a tiny bit envious of your ever lasting cooking project. It all looks deliciously 21st century!

I relish my visits and am amazed at your talent. Thank you so much for sharing!

Nora Leah Sherman said...

Wow, Louise, thank you for the kind words. I have to admit ... I am getting ever more 21st century as I go along (almost done!).

I think it's that I've gained a good deal of confidence in my own cooking and moreover, my ability to look at a recipe, guess what they're getting at, and make it something that my friends and I actually want to eat! (Some of the more authentic stuff, where I actually followed the recipes? Not so much.)

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