Sunday, October 10, 2010

Three meals in stages


A belated celebration for a friend's 40th birthday. "Come for dinner. I'll give you a steak."

- Consider the steak. Some sirloins triple-wrapped in the downstairs freezer, bought on a trip to Costco while on a buy-in-bulk-save-money binge. The idea of barbecuing them doesn't appeal and the standard bistro browned-in-butter, while tasty, has been done. This is a birthday. And we all live in a city. Gravy is usually something that comes out of a can, why not make something with sufficient gravy that it becomes an occasion rather than a $6.99 lunch special?

- Remember the Swiss Steak recipe from a Mennonite cookbook read at the in-laws while out of town. Remember also that Swiss Steak was something often served as a TV dinner in the 70s. But Mennonites don't watch TV and maybe the mealy, tough, buried in overly sweet tomato sauce variation never made it to them. Or from them. Vaguely recall that the Mennonite variation involved beating a cut of round (or marinating or simmering steak) thin, dredging it in flour, browning it in butter and cooking it in stock for...well, awhile.

- Rescind the original steak offer, slightly: "Still steak. But with lots of gravy."

- Receive reply: "Steak with gravy? Ye gods. Can it get any better?"

- Start looking for a decent recipe for simmered steak or Swiss Steak or something that doesn't involve an envelope of Lipton French Onion Soup mix tossed in at the last second. Come across a website of a nice Roman Catholic lady and remember that you've done all this a few months before when craving the gravy-rich meals that your nice German aunt made when you were a kid. Ignore most of the nice Catholic lady's tips except for the volume of stock and the cooking time.

- The night before the birthday meal, thaw two sirloins, beat thin with a mallet. This probably isn't necessary, the cut's tender enough not to need it, and you could probably have just cut them in half width-wise, but do it anyhow.

- Head out to a job interview the next day. Be confident that there's a frozen container of homemade dark chicken stock downstairs to provide a base for the gravy later that evening. Yeah, chicken and beef playing footsie in an enamel frying pan, there's probably something unholy happening here. Ignore any apprehensions.

- Get home, heat some unsalted butter in the pan, dredge the steaks in flour and pepper as the butter browns. Toss in one steak, brown both sides in the brown butter. Withdraw, toss in some minced green onion and mushrooms. When they look nice and soft, add the second steak and head downstairs to fetch the homemade stock from the freezer.

- Find instead, a small container of three bean chili. Tasty, but impractical for the situation at hand.

- Raid the pantry. Find a can of Cambell's beef stock held for just such emergencies. Cut the stock with 2/3rds water and 1/3rd red wine and pour over the browned steaks, mushrooms and onions. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer covered for 2 and a half hours. Take the steaks out at the end and boil down the gravy for a few minutes until it's thick.

- Feed hungry friend tender steak covered in very rich gravy. And a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Hide leftover gravy in the fridge for future use.


- Thanksgiving Sunday. Drive to a small town on Lake Erie for a family dinner and a large turkey. Devour said bird and take your son for a long walk on the streets you walked with your grandfather when you were five years old. Try not to find yourself in 1973. More importantly, pay attention to the fact your son's minor cough is becoming a significant one.

- Drive back to Toronto with leftover turkey in tinfoil, salad in a cup and the beast's bones in a bag. Plan on replacing the dark stock you were sure was in the freezer.

- Make it home and steal away to a local and still open grocery while your wife gives the boy a steamy hot bath to clear his head. Stock up on enough celery, onions, garlic, and carrots to provide for a decent stock and decent soup the next day.

- Grab a poundof fresh ground beef for part three, but ignore for the time being other than putting it in the fridge.

- As for the bones, cut the half-standing carcass into sections, drop in a roasting pan with chopped celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Toss it all with a bit of oil and put it in a 400 degree oven for an hour. Flip them around once, then put back in for another hour. It all comes out vaguely caramelized and frighteningly dark. Divide the spoils between two stock pots, cover with water and let simmer until it's food, rather than simply burnt stuff in water.

- Cook down until it's good food and freeze most of it. Save some for the morning and give it to a sick little boy who needs something homemade.


- Remember the leftover gravy in the fridge awaiting your appetite.

- Toast two slices of whole wheat bread, spread a very small amount of butter on each warm slice. Very small. Maybe a teaspoon.

- Divide the ground beef into two thin patties drop them on a hot pan with a very small amount of oil (half a teaspoon) and two shallots. Forget about them until you see red blood rising on the raw side, flip them over and find beautifully browned, almost crispy (but not burnt) meat looking at you. Make it happen on both sides.

- Find the leftover gravy in the fridge, it's a bit thick and cold. Add a drop of red wine and heat quickly in a small pan until it's warm and rich.

- Drop the now-cooked almost-crispy patties on the toast, cover with the gravy.

- The hot hamburger sandwich (call it chopped steak at a stretch) shared between you and your wife and a cold beer and a few potato chips as the scent of wine and stock and warm cooking fills the house. Another instance that's more than the sum of it's $6.99 lunch special parts.

- Consider your present situation. Dignified grey at the temples spreading to the rest of the scalp. Job interviews. And don't forget all the free-floating anxiety. But really, try not to worry so much. After all, everyone's gotta eat.

October, 2010.


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