Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Veggies & Facing a Steak Fear

Dinners: January 15 & 16

I’ll admit it. Cooking a steak scares me. I believe I did it once or twice in the past, but I avoid it most of the time. How long to cook it on my handy stovetop grill? I like my steaks medium-rare, but undercooking it probably isn’t good for my health. Overcooking it makes it dry. How do I just leave it there for a few minutes without turning it constantly? It begs to be turned!

Oh, steak.

A few months ago, my local grocery store had a big sale on steaks, so I bought several individually wrapped pieces of beef and froze them. This week, I heard their call to be set free.

I also read up on how to grill a steak and swore that I would follow the rule of 3-4 minutes per side, NOT turning until that time, and letting the meat rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes after cooking but before cutting in to it. Discipline is not my strong suit, so that was harder that it may seem.

It worked. The first night, I had a boneless sirloin steak. The center was medium rare because I followed the instructions. However, from the center out, the steak was medium well. It was good, just a little too cooked on the outer portions.

The second night, I had a t-bone steak, and I mistakenly cooked it the same amount of time as the thicker steak the night before. It was medium well throughout, and therefore a bit dry. The t-bone also contained more fat, and it was tough to dig through it all for the lean parts.

I need to try harder with steak. First, I need to marinate so as to add flavor. Hopefully, that will tenderize a bit as well. Steaks require planning and time. Second, I should possibly reduce the cooking time by a half minute or so to ensure a medium rare slab o’ meat. Suggestions from meat connoisseurs are welcome in the comments section!

As for vegetable sides, I wanted to experiment with the simple. The first night, I took a red and a green pepper, sliced them, and put them on the grill with my steak. I simply left them on the grill for a few minutes per side, then transferred them to a plate, seasoned with salt and drizzled with olive oil. So simple and tasty!

The second night, I had two zucchini and a yellow squash to use, and I wanted to try out the new mandoline I received from my sister for Christmas. I decided to try something completely off the top of my head.

Basics: Cut grape tomatoes in half and layered bottom of casserole dish. Covered with layer of sliced zucchini, then grated parmesan cheese over it. Added a layer of sliced yellow squash, grated parmesan cheese, and a little olive oil. Added the final layer of zucchini, parmesan cheese, a little mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cooked in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. 

The veggie casserole was delicious! First, I must say that the mandolin slices like nobody’s business! It is now the coolest item in my kitchen besides my Dutch oven. I can’t wait to do some thinner slices of potatoes for some au gratin and experiment with other veggies. Back to this dish, there was only one problem: It was too liquidy. I’m going to assume the olive oil was unnecessary for starters, and I could’ve used some kind of layer of bread crumbs in there to soak up some of the other juices. Even with the liquidy consistency, though, the mix of vegetables and cheese was very good and made for a wonderful side dish to the beef.


  1. Although it's hard to beat an outdoor grill for cooking steak, doing do inside is not hard, and if you do it right, the results are fantastic.

    First things first...if you have a good cut of meat, you need no marinade. Salt and pepper are enough. I prefer McCormicks Montreal Steak Seasoning (which is essentially a jacked up salt and pepper). Cover you steak with it liberally and let it be for a while. A couple hours is good. Let it come up to room temp covered on your counter.

    Now, the fun part. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you need one. They aren't that expensive, and they are invaluable if you want to do a lot of kinds of cooking. Once you have that...

    Put the cast iron skillet under your oven's broiler for up to 10-15 minutes until it's really, really hot. Open the oven and put the steak in the skillet and broil for a couple of minutes on each side. Then turn off the broiler and bump the oven to 500 degrees. Depending on the thickness of the steak, you will want to leave the steak in for 2-4 minutes, turning over halfway through. This, as with all things steak, works better with thicker cuts. I like mine medium rare and might choose to go on the lower end of that time.

    Note: This is a smoky endeavor. But it's worth it if you can't grill outside.

    Also, yes...definitely let the thing rest afterward. You have to give the juices time to settle back in, or you have wasted your steak.

    Good luck.

  2. Oooh, great tips! I do have a cast iron skillet. The only issue here is that my broiler is under my stove, but I guess I can just move the pan from the broiler to the oven the same way?

    Good to know I don't have to use a special marinade. May get a flavored seasoning as you mentioned, though.

    I really didn't know a steak could sit for a few hours on the counter, and it sounds like that process of bringing to room temperature is key. You have me excited to try another steak!

  3. The veggie casserole sounds awesome. Tip for the excess liquid. When working with squash and eggplant, they contain a lot of excess water. Slice them, then lightly salt both sides, layer them on a plate between paper towels, then place a heavy pot or pan on top (or another plate with some objects for weight). Give it 15 minutes or so, then proceed with cooking. Helps with veggie lasagna, eggplant parmesan, or casseroles as well. Don't do this is you direct grill, the excess moisture helps prevent burning.

  4. Thanks for the squash tip! I knew to do that for eggplant but didn't realize it would help for squash, too. I'm learning so much today!

  5. I could write a book on the ways to flavor ANY piece of meat. At home I use an indoor grill cause I can't have a real grill here (BOO!!). So, I will use a marinade. One of my favorites is chervil, basil, and parsley put in a blender with some olive oil. Placing the meat on a plate and add salt and pepper. Then cover with the blended oil and straight onto the grill! If I'm on a gas/charcoal grill I let the heat take care of the flavoring with the aid of a little salt and pepper.

    There are a million ways to tell the doneness of any protein. I use finger pressure at work to tell when something is done if I'm in a hurry. BUT, until you learn that method, you should buy a probe thermometer. And spend the money to get a good one (Taylor).

    Learn the temps for cooking steak: Rare\120-125 Mid-rare\130-135 Medium\140-145 mid-well\150-155 well done\charcoal.

  6. So Brian, the meat doesn't need to get to room temp? I will invest in a good thermometer per your suggestion. And thanks so much for the marinade idea!

  7. Great blog!

    How I test steak's doneness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkekpYE4PQU

    Fwiw, I generally prefer my steak rare (especially for leaner cuts). I've seen some research showing that rare is actually healthier than more well-cooked: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig6/masterjohn2.html

    My favorite marinade is red wine with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. I do it for about 24 hours and turn it half way through.

    The Veggie casserole looks amazing! You've inspired me to get mine out (a bad cut in culinary school has left me pretty scared of the device).

    Thanks for sharing this! :)

  8. Thanks for the links! And the marinade sounds wonderful.

    I'm definitely afraid of my mandoline. I actually wore an oven mitt to hold my veggie when cutting. ;)

  9. Room temperature.. good, cutting into it immediately after... bad.

    Check out a little after the 4 minute mark of the Anthony Bourdain video. It's a bit bigger then what you are working with but the principles are the same.


  10. Late to the game on this one, but the tips above are all good. Just adding my voice to the chorus.

    Definitely let it get to room temp (30min-1hr on the counter). Otherwise - centre rare, outside well done.

    Definitely let it rest after. 5 min is barely enough. I don't touch it for at least 10, prefer 15.

    Can't beat cast iron for indoors.

    Get an instant read thermometer for steak if you're going to do it on the stove top and base it on temp and not feel. A cheaper one should do, but the Thermapen is the best I know of if you want speed. If you're doing it in the oven, a probe is the way to go.

    Seasoning: Your choice. If you're buying quality meat, than a marinade is almost a shame. Save that stuff for the not-top-quality steaks. The basic salt and pepper is always good, but I wouldn't leave steaks salted for hours as it will toughen the meat and drain the juice. An hour won't hurt though.

    Or create a steak rub. Pepper (fresh cracked) and salt are the basics, garlic powder, mustard powder, turmeric, smoked paprika, chili powder, etc., are all great components. Try different types of pepper too - tellicherry, cubeb, long peppers... there are tons of options. A light coating of neutral oil (canola, sunflower, vegetable) is good to start with.

    Heat - if you're going stove top, start at HIGH, let the pan get good and hot so you sear the meat (for flavour, it has nothing to do with sealing anything in). Drop to medium/med-high to get a more even cook. The "flip once" rule isn't etched in stone either. Especially if you want a good sear on both sides.

    Another method I've started to use, especially when using an outdoor grill, is to pre-sear the steak. Crank it high, drop on the steak, 30sec-min each side to sear it all around, and take it off. Let it rest while the grill drops to a lower temp (say, 250-300), and then put the steak in, close the lid, and let it roast for 4-8 min depending how you want it done. Take it off, let it rest, and enjoy.