Category Archives: Grilling

snippets

For those of you who are married, this wins the Obvious Statement of the Year award, and for those of you who are unmarried, take heed: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. Like, feels-like-a-second-job amounts of work. And for someone like me who basically does have a second job (or two or three, depending on how you count freelance work, being a landlady and running a micro-food-business), I barely have time to breathe let alone blog. For those who opt for a “regular” wedding at a place where it’s X amount per head all-inclusive, there’s still plenty to keep you busy (my sister went this route last year and still, a few months out, found herself wishing she had planned a small destination wedding instead). But when you capriciously decide that you want to have your reception at an old Model T museum, with no kitchen or staff, that doesn’t regularly host large events, you’re dealing with a whole new level of coordination.  My chest gets tight just thinking about it.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I’m managing to squeeze in little snippets of normal life here and there- a Sunday supper of grilled salmon with scape pesto; a weekend visit with my mom and sister; a restaurant meal with my old high school friend Kathy and her husband Garrett (longtime readers may remember my posts about my stay with her in Portland, and making her family’s Chinese dumplings).

When Kathy announced a couple months ago that they’d be in Ann Arbor for a couple days and wanted to meet for dinner, I didn’t have to think too hard about where to go. Grange is a restaurant which friends have raved about for its commitment to only serving local, seasonal food and its excellent cocktail menu. We were particularly wowed by the house-made charcuterie platter (trend trifecta- there were even pickled scapes! but who cares because it was REALLY GOOD), which included whipped lardo among its decadent treats. For dinner, I had pork loin on a bed of greens with pickled strawberries. The dish had minor flaws, but the pork itself was juicy and had a nice fatty layer indicating its non-industrial “other white meat” origins. After dinner we went next door and had a couple un-fancy drinks with Fred, another old friend from college. It was an evening that made me happy and wistful at the same time- I’ve met so many great people at different times in my life but despite the brave new world of online social networking, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all in any meaningful way. I’m just thankful for times when I do see old friends and we’re able to pick up without awkwardness,  as if no time had passed.

Speaking of things to be grateful for, my family has been so supportive and helpful during this busy time! My mom and sister were in town visiting a couple weeks ago and I was glad I was able to find time to cook them a meal. I deep-fried some stuffed squash blossoms from the farmers’ market, grilled a grass-fed flank steak, roasted some beets and dressed them with a scape & pistachio pesto, and heated up some pasta with fresh tomato sauce I’d made a few days prior. We had a nice leisurely summer supper, nibbling on cheese and salami and white bean dip, then moving outside for a glass of L. Mawby (a sparkling wine from the Leelanau) and the squash blossoms (I took Melissa Clark’s excellent advice about moving the deep fryer outdoors). As dusk settled in, we  migrated back to the dinner table afterward for the rest of our feast.  The roasted beets were so sweet they tasted like strawberry candy, and despite her aversion to the garish magenta roots, my mom consented to trying a bite. Their green tops were chopped and sautéed with some kale for a slightly bitter counterpoint to the beets’ intense sugar. We lingered over these and a few bottles of wine, and after dinner (partially thanks to said wine), Amanda coerced me into getting out an old photo album and reminiscing about a trip we took to New York almost exactly a decade ago, just two weeks before 9/11.

Even on weeknights, every once in a blue moon we have an evening where we’re both home at dinnertime (no small feat with two freelancers in the house) and we take time to make a “nice dinner”. Now, don’t get me wrong- by “nice” I don’t mean complicated- we’re still far off from having that kind of time. I just mean a meal that we wouldn’t hesitate to serve to company, once we can actually have people over again. For example- a beautiful piece of wild salmon, smeared with the aforementioned scape pesto and grilled. If memory serves (yes, it was that long ago! sigh…), we had kale and grilled cabbage on the side, two of our current favorite vegetable sides. The cabbage was simply shredded, tossed with salt, olive oil and smoked paprika, and the kale was bolstered with a paste of anchovies and preserved lemons, with some red pepper flakes for good measure. Incidentally, my dangerously crowded pantry may look like overkill to some, but it’s a saving grace when it comes to cooking anything worth mentioning on a tight time budget.

Tonight I will be working, testing and developing waffle and popover recipes for a client in my 90+-degree kitchen and wishing I was grilling or eating a nice cool salad or chilled soup. But such is life right now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after September 17th, and meanwhile, eat lots of wonderful summer meals for me!

kale salad with lemon feta dressing, and an accidental smoked trout {charcutepalooza}

I may be accused of chutzpah for labeling this post “Charcutepalooza”, but so be it. Last month’s posting deadline (April 15) breezed past without fanfare like I wish this cold, rainy spring weather would, and although I had the hot-smoking challenge in the back of my mind all month, I had no specific plan as to how or when to execute it. So when my friend Todd invited a few of us over and said he was firing up his smoker, right after Molly and I had just bought a whole fresh lake trout (scored at Eastern Market for $1.99 a pound!), it seemed like kismet.

Because the trout was going to be in the fridge for a few days before the get-together, I salted and sugared it (no measuring, I just threw on what I thought was an appropriate amount). I had already used my share of the steaks, which I braised in a Thai red curry coconut milk concoction, so I had my half of the fillet left to smoke. Molly went the opposite route, saving her steaks for the smoker. Despite my lackadaisical approach, I did attempt to create a pellicle by  placing the uncovered fish on a rack in the fridge the morning of the party. (I mention this as a pathetic bit of evidence that I actually sort of “did” the challenge…)

I was requested to bring a vegetable side dish, so I decided to give raw kale salad a try. It’s something I’ve been reading all about on various blogs and wanted to try for a while, but they always call for lacinato or “dinosaur” kale which I can’t easily find around here. I decided to make up a recipe using regular (curly) kale instead and see how it came out. The verdict? According to the other guests, it was great. I was totally satisfied with the flavor, but I think texturally it could have been improved upon slightly by chopping the kale a little finer, almost like tabbouleh. A mezzaluna would have come in handy for this task, but I don’t have one currently. Another item for the wedding registry!

Apparently we were supposed to be there 2 hours before we actually got there (I recalled the email mentioning 7pm but apparently this was the sit-down-to-eat time, not the arrival time…. damn ADD) but fortunately we showed up just as the burgers were coming off the smoker and people were getting ready to dig in. Our host presented us each with a Cuba Libre (translation: rum & coke with a lime) and we loaded our plates and headed out to what Todd fondly refers to as “the magical front porch” to eat. It was a bit chilly, but the great food, drink and company distracted us enough from the cold.

After dinner, we moved the party out back where the fish was still smoking and a fire was roaring. I figured the trout would be a snack for those later-on beer munchies, but then Evan busted out a phenomenal lemon gelato with something like 20 egg yolks, so understandably no one was much interested in fish at that point. (I’m suspecting, and hoping, that those who stayed past us drinking had a go at it later). I of course had to at least sample some for posterity’s sake. The fillet was light and delicate, with just a thin darker layer where the smoke had adhered. The steaks, which had been on longer, had a fuller, meatier and more intense smoke flavor. Both were incredibly moist and delicious. I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t steal a small piece to take home to put on a morning bagel, but our hosts had been generous so I wanted to leave it for them. A good reason to actually attempt the hot smoking challenge on my own at some point (or, a reason to put a smoker on our registry!) . I do have a souvenir, though- my coat still smells like smoked fish.

Raw Kale Salad with Lemon Feta Dressing
printer-friendly version

Most of the kale salads I’ve seen on the interwebs are variations on Melissa Clark’s recipe and call for pecorino and lacinato kale…  I had feta and regular kale on hand so I developed this recipe instead. Featuring feta, lemon and oregano, the flavors are more Greek than Italian, and the copious but light dressing works well with the curly kale. The salad holds up beautifully for days without wilting, so it’s a great make-ahead dish.

2 bunches kale
1 cup olive oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
2 oz. plus 4 oz. feta in brine
2 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sugar
salt
optional: cherry or grape tomatoes or strips of red or yellow bell pepper

Notes:
Using the full 1/3 cup lemon juice makes what I consider a pleasantly tart dressing. If you are less of an acid-head than me, feel free to start with 1/4 cup; you can always add more.

Directions:
In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, oregano,  pepper flakes, sugar and a couple pinches of salt.

Cut the tough stems away from the kale leaves and discard; roughly chop or tear the leaves and wash and dry in a salad spinner. Finely chop the kale (think tabbouleh or a little coarser) and place in a bowl large enough to toss the salad.

Put the olive oil, garlic and 2 ounces of feta in a blender and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice mixture and process again until fully combined. Taste for balance, adding more lemon juice or an additional pinch of salt or sugar if necessary.

Toss about 3/4 of the dressing with the salad and assess the results, adding the remaining dressing to your taste. Crumble the remaining 4 oz feta on top. If desired, garnish with additional vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, etc.

venturing

When my band plays live shows, it’s common for us to play certain songs faster than the tempo we record or rehearse them in.  There’s an energy to a live performance that incites you to do everything louder, faster, harder.  For some of the songs that are already up-tempo, the live versions are sometimes performed at breakneck speeds that make you feel as if you’re on a runaway train that could careen off the tracks at any moment.  It’s nerve-wracking to think it could all fall apart, but exhilarating at the same time when you finish the song, looking around at your bandmates like “Did we really just pull that off?”.

This is the feeling that sums up my September- a frantic, energetic, delirious blur.  It bums me out that I’ve gone the entire month so far- over three weeks- without posting here, even though I had the first week of the month off (the pork loin shown above was cooked up north over Labor Day weekend, the last couple leisure days I’ve had).  Rest assured,  I haven’t been neglecting this space out of laziness or lack of interest.  I’ve become involved in a few different new projects that are kicking into high gear and keeping nearly every free moment occupied, so I do feel a bit neurotic.  But like that song that just manages not to self-implode, I’ve been holding it all together by the skin of my teeth and feeling, for the most part, immensely satisfied.

A month ago, I convinced my job to let me cut my work week to 32 hours so that I could have some extra time for entrepreneurial pursuits.  I was a little nervous about the reduction in pay, but I knew it was something I had to do and was ready to take a bit of a risk. Since then, I have started making products for a small business with a friend (more on this soon!) and have written my first freelance article for Model D (out 9/28). I’ve also been working on getting this blog redesigned and moved over to a new domain, which I hope to have done in October in time for its 2-year anniversary.

Meanwhile, my cooking has fallen a bit to the wayside.  I’ve largely been subsisting off salads, bread, cheese, and very simply cooked vegetables from the farmers’ market- nothing to write home about, but nourishing to the soul as well as the body.  As summer grinds to a halt, I’m spending massive amounts of free time processing various fruits and vegetables, something I haven’t done on a large scale before.  I hope to get my blogging mojo back soon, but for the moment my other projects are demanding just about all of my attention.  I hope you’ll bear with me as I transition into these new and exciting ventures!

Grilled Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary

I haven’t really made anything requiring a recipe in the last month, but I did make the grilled pork loin pictured above with my favorite sous-chef, my brother Jesse, on Labor Day weekend up north.

Take a pork loin and cut it for a roulade (or have the butcher do this if you don’t know how).  Generously season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Lay flat. Make a paste out of generous amounts of garlic and rosemary with a little olive oil; smear this liberally on one side of the meat.  Roll it up and secure with butcher’s twine. Grill over high heat until it begins to color and brown, then transfer to indirect heat and grill, covered, until internal temperature is 145°.  Allow to rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil; slice and serve.  We served this with a “sauce” made of fresh Michigan peaches peeled and macerated with a small amount of sugar, and the grilled sweet corn pictured in the new masthead.

honey, cumin & lime grilled chicken for the gudetroit picnic

In my last post I alluded to a picnic with some fellow Detroit gourmands, some of whom I introduced to you in this post.  We’re a growing group, and we decided to have a potluck picnic on Belle Isle as an excuse to eat, drink and get to know each other a little better. Molly and Todd scoped out the perfect spot under some willow trees, on the banks of the Detroit river with a view of the city.

Knowing this group, I had high expectations, but wow… I have to say I was pretty blown away by how much everyone put into it.  Dave (aka Captain McBoozy), James and Evan ruled the drinks department- Dave made a Rhubarb Rum Punch and some Prescription Juleps, Evan brought a chartreuse-and-pineapple juice concoction,  and James (our resident coffee-roaster and token Romanian-American) made a fabulous cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, vodka, passionfruit syrup and Romanian mountain mint.

The food was no less spectacular… I displayed an incredible amount of willpower and paced myself perfectly so that I was able to nibble and sip on and off all day while never feeling uncomfortably full or overly tipsy.  This was no small feat, since it was pretty much a spread to end all spreads. My contributions were a big bowl of chlodnik and a mess of honey, cumin & lime-marinated grilled chicken (grilling courtesy of Todd, thanks dude!).  The rest of the food I almost hesitate to list for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out, but there were homemade sausages, pizza on the grill (organic dough courtesy of Strawberry Moon in Ferndale), Vietnamese fresh rolls, an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp (don’t tell the rabbi!), bruschetta, gazpacho, Korean beef tartare lettuce wraps, grilled steak with arugula, a huge bowl of guac, and an assortment of gourmet ice cream courtesy of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus.  Jarred also brought an assortment of wines provided by Western Market- score!

We whiled away the afternoon until it slipped into evening, and somehow managed to dispatch almost all of the food.  We were even making ham sandwiches towards the end of the day, with leftover marble rye, mustard, and some J&M German bacon (not really “bacon”; more like the best ham you’ve ever had).  As the sun set over the city, we packed up our belongings and mused about how perfect the day had been, and wondered aloud how soon we could do another picnic.

Back to the chicken- this isn’t the first time I’ve made this chicken, but I usually make it with wings for a better meat-to-marinade ratio.  The drumsticks weren’t bad, but I think I’ll revert to using wings from now on.   It was hard to “name” this recipe because all of the marinade ingredients are bold and prominent- the sweet-tart punch of honey and lime, the toasty warmth of the cumin and cayenne, and the savory hit of garlic all contribute to a sauce that sings with flavor.  The elements are inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, but I’ve never had anything like it in a restaurant or come across any similar recipes in any cookbooks or blogs, so for now I’ll claim it as my own.  We couldn’t do this at the picnic, but if you’re near a stove, the leftover marinade (boiled and reduced) makes a killer dipping sauce.

To see the full set of photos from the picnic, check out my flickr set.

Honey, Cumin & Lime Grilled Chicken
printer-friendly version

4-5 lbs chicken wings (or drumsticks), preferably free-range or organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 large limes should yield this, unless they are particularly dry)
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs ground cumin (seeds toasted & freshly ground if possible)
½ tsp cayenne or 1 tsp Harissa paste (or more if you like it spicy)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 packed Tbs minced garlic (a couple cloves depending on size)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil

Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the honey.  Taste to see that the sweet/sour flavors are balanced.  It should taste pretty pucker-inducing, but the heat will tame some of the acidity.  Taste for spiciness as well, adding cayenne as you see fit.

Wash and pat the chicken dry.  Place in a sturdy Ziploc-type bag with the marinade and seal, expelling as much air as possible.  Marinate for at least an hour, longer if possible.

Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning frequently and basting often with the marinade (this should take about 15-20 minutes for wings; slightly longer for drumsticks.  If unsure, use a meat thermometer and cook to 160°).  If you like, boil down any remaining marinade on the stove until slightly thickened and use as a dipping sauce.

tarte flambée and memories of alsace

Like many Americans, technically I’m what you might call a “mutt”- like a big pot of stew with lots of bits and bobs, my family tree is peppered with Scottish, English, Native American, French, German and probably a bunch of other genes I’m unaware of.  But, coincidentally, I have Alsatian roots on both my mother’s and father’s side.  My mom’s grandfather’s family, the Steffeses, and my dad’s father’s side, the Lothamers (originally Lotthammer) are both from Alsace and the Black Forest region (on the other side of the Rhine river, which divides Alsace from Germany).   So, given the fact that I have been enamored with French language and culture from an early age, and that I have a French first name and German last name, I have adopted Alsace as my pays and taken to telling people with a wink that I’m alsacienne.

One of my uncles has done pretty extensive genealogical research on the Lotthammer family and has made contact with several families living in Alsace and Germany today that are related to us.  When I was 16, he arranged a trip for me and my best friend to travel to Alsace and stay with some of the families he had made contact with through his research (yes, that’s me in the photo above on the right at age 16… the French got a kick out of my braces!).  We were there for three weeks, and visited the region extensively- from the largest city, Strasbourg, to a tiny village called Guewenheim, and several towns in between (Colmar, Mulhouse, Thann, Belfort…).  The experience was nothing short of transformative for a suburban teenager who until then had barely traveled in the U.S. let alone Europe.

That trip was a huge stepping stone on my path to adventurous eating and cooking.  In Guewenheim, we stayed with a family whose refrigerator was unplugged and used as a pantry, because they ate fresh food every day and had no need to refrigerate anything!  (Any leftover scraps were given to their lucky chien, Zora.)  One of the funniest memories from that trip was going over to the home of an elderly woman in the village for a lesson in making kugelhopf, only to discover that the woman’s Alsatian dialect was totally incomprehensible to our limited third-year French ears.  Let’s just say there was a lot of nodding and smiling going on that afternoon, and that I still don’t know how to make kugelhopf!

It took a while for my budding food curiosity to convert itself into a love for cooking, but some of the first recipes I ever made from a cookbook came from France: The Beautiful Cookbook.  This was a gift from another uncle to our family, and since my parents weren’t the type to cook from a “fancy” French cookbook, the book defaulted into my possession.  I still have a great nostalgia for the hours I spent as a teenager poring over the photos, reading about the different regions of France, and staring longingly at all the strange food depicted between its covers, trying to conjure what it would taste like. Luckily, not all the recipes were out of reach, and I taught myself to make tarte flambée (basically a “pizza” with crème fraîche, bacon and onions) so I could have a little taste of Alsace here in the States.  With crème fraîche being readily available now, along with ready made pizza dough, this is now something that’s totally doable for a weeknight supper, and I’ve found myself making it fairly often of late.  One of these days I’ll make a choucroute garnie, the most famous of Alsace’s regional dishes, but with spring around the corner, I don’t know how many more large heavy dinners will be in the works, so it may have to wait until next winter at this point.  If I get really motivated maybe I’ll even make my own sauerkraut!

P.S. This is a GREAT recipe to adapt to the grill- see this post for instructions on grilling pizza.

Photo note: all of the non-food photos are scans of old photos from my trip.  The top two are in Colmar; the third was taken atop Strasbourg’s cathedral, and the remainder I believe are from Guewenheim (possibly another nearby village).

Tarte Flambée (Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart)
printer-friendly version

1 lb pizza dough, divided in half
1 small tub crème fraîche (you’ll probably use 1/2 to 2/3 cup total)
3 medium yellow onions
6 slices bacon
nutmeg
white or black pepper
flour
optional: shredded Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese

Notes: This will make two approximately 10″ tarts, depending on how thin you stretch your dough. Each tart serves two as a main course or more as an appetizer, so you can make the second tart right away or save the leftover dough and toppings for a quick and easy after-work meal.  Cheese is not traditional per se, but I had some and wanted to use it up.   If you do use cheese, do so sparingly, otherwise you’ll end up with a pretty greasy tart.  The nutmeg may be non-traditional as well but I love nutmeg with cream, bacon and onions so I always include it.  White pepper vs. black is more a visual thing, if you don’t want black specks on your white food, use the white pepper.

Place a pizza stone in the oven on the center rack and preheat to 475.  OR, make this on the grill.  Remove your dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp while you prep the onions and bacon.

Heat a medium (10″ or 12″) cast iron or aluminum skillet over medium heat.  Cut the bacon into 1/4-” strips (I like to use a kitchen scissors and just snip the bacon right over the pan) and fry to your preferred doneness.  While the bacon is frying, cut your onions.  I like to do thin rings but you can dice it if you prefer.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Pour off some of the bacon fat, leaving enough in the pan to fry the onions.  Saute the onions over medium-high heat until soft and golden.


Put a generous amount of flour on a pizza peel or other flat surface such as a cookie sheet with no lip (in a pinch, I have used an upside-down cookie sheet; you just need to be able to slide it off onto the pizza stone).  Take one of your  dough balls and flour it until it is dry to the touch.  Gently stretch the dough, using your fists, flouring as you go to keep it from sticking to your hands or the pizza peel.  I like to get mine as thin as possible, but if you prefer a chewier crust you can adjust accordingly.  Don’t forget that your dough will shrink back a bit, so make it slightly thinner than you think you’ll want it.  When you’re done, place the dough on the peel and shake it, making sure the dough moves freely and is not sticking anywhere.


Working as quickly as possible, spread a thin layer of crème fraîche over the dough, about 1/4 cup or a little more if needed.  Top the tart with half the onions, half the bacon, a few grinds of pepper and nutmeg, and cheese if using.  Slide the tart onto the pizza peel and cook until the crust is golden, 5-10 minutes depending on how thick you stretched the dough. Brush the flour off the peel and use it to serve the tart.

espresso-balsamic grilled flank steak

I had a nice flank steak marinating in all kinds of goodness last Saturday, with the intention of grilling it Sunday, but the weather and life in general had other plans.  It drizzled all day, and then the person I was supposed to cook for decided they wanted Thai food, and no one else was around at short notice to eat with me.  I was feeling pretty glum about all of this.  It’s one thing to eat alone if you’re just eating a salad or leftovers, but sitting down to a 2-lb. steak by yourself just makes you feel slightly ridiculous.  It sits on a platter in its burnished glory, juices pooling, mocking you with its heft and surplus.  No, flank steak is meant to be made for multiple people, not one pint-sized female who can only eat a few measly slices before becoming too full.

steak on cutting board

Nevertheless, I had already been marinating the meat for 24 hours, and didn’t want to gamble with letting it sit any longer, so I valiantly tried to get the grill going.  I should mention that, while I have “grilled” many times, I have never actually lit a grill as there has always been someone (ok, a guy) around to do it (hey, I have to make them feel they are contributing in some small way, right?).  So I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but the coals would not light despite the copious amount of lighter fluid I dispensed all over them (and it wasn’t even raining aymore at that point).

steak plated 2

On to plan B- the broiler.  I have never broiled steak before either, but I figured I would just wing it.  I didn’t do too badly- the steak was more medium-well than the medium-rare I was going for, but it wasn’t ruined by any means, and the marinade (which I simmered on the stove and used as a sauce) was outstanding.  If coffee in a marinade sounds too weird, please just trust me and try this.  The coffee blends really well with the other flavors and adds an unexpected depth.  Plus, assuming you don’t eat this alone like I did, you can play a fun game with your dinner guests having them guess the secret ingredient. If you want to do wine with this (and why not?) you could try a peppery Shiraz to complement the black pepper in the sauce.  I’ll be posting soon on the potato salad in the photo as well, so stay tuned for that too!

Espresso-Balsamic Grilled Flank Steak (adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley) printer-friendly version

They say that if you get one really great recipe out of a cookbook to add to your repertoire, it’s worth the purchase.  At today’s $35-and-up cookbook prices and free recipes on blogs everywhere, I’m not sure if that’s absolutely true, but I will say that this recipe makes this particular book worthwhile for me.  (I have to confess, it’s the only one I’ve made so far from the book, but if enthusiastic Amazon reviewers are to be believed, it’s certainly not the only one that’s worth trying!)  The recipe takes less than 30 minutes active prep time, yet has so much more of a “wow” factor than many dishes which take hours to prepare.  Needless to say, your sauce will only be as good as the coffee you use, so please take care to use a quality coffee that’s not too harsh or acidic.

1 flank steak, 1 1/2- 2 lbs
1 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbs dijon mustard
1 tbs neutral vegetable oil
1 tsp coarsely gound black pepper
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients (i.e. everything but the steak) and place in a sealable plastic bag or flat, shallow container large enough to hold the meat.  Rinse the meat, pat dry, and place in the marinade, covered,  for 2 hours minimum (up to 24 hours).  Turn occasionally.

Heat the grill of your choice to medium-high heat.  Remove the steak from the marinade, scraping any clinging sauce and shallots back into the dish with a spatula.  Pat the steak dry, and oil and salt the surface lightly.  Grill 3-6 minutes per side, taking care not to overcook (because it is so lean, flank steak is best served on the rare side).  Baste with the marinade while cooking, reserving at least 1/2 cup.  When done, set on a platter to rest, tented with foil, while you finish the sauce (let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing).

Put the remaining marinade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil along with any juices that collect on the platter.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for a minute or two; the sauce should thicken slightly.  Slice the steak thinly against the grain and spoon the sauce over to serve.

chicken sausage for dad

sausage plated
sausages cooked on plateAs the years go by, I find it increasingly difficult to come up with gift ideas for my parents, especially my dad.  There isn’t a whole lot that he needs or wants that he wouldn’t just pick up for himself, so when it comes to gift-giving time, I’m always a bit stumped.  To make matters even more difficult, his birthday falls within a week of Fathers’ Day.  This year I decided I was done going to the mall and spending money on some useless object that would end up in the back of a closet.  So for Father’s Day I planted some herbs in his garden, and for his birthday I made him a few pounds of sausage!

sausage on grill squareMy dad is very health-conscious- he rarely eats red meat, and usually goes for the low-fat option when possible.  He also loves to grill, so I thought what better gift than a bunch of homemade chicken sausage?  I found out through reading online that most of the chicken sausage you buy in the store is actually not that low fat, but by making it at home, you can obviously control what goes into it and make a much healthier product.  Milk powder is supposedly the “secret ingredient” to keep things moist.  (Also, apparently cooked white rice is a great fat substitute, although I didn’t try it.)

Italian spicesI’m not going to lie- making sausage at home is a labor of love, and the two main reasons to do it would be a) controlling the ingredients, and b) making some creative flavors that you couldn’t find in a store.  The meat counter at my local grocery makes sausage on-site, and has a decent variety, so until now I never felt much need to make my own.  But I always like to try new and challenging food projects, so this was as good an excuse as any!  I made two varieties, a chicken “bratwurst”, and a sweet Italian-style sausage.  The bratwurst recipe was adapted from this one, and I didn’t use a recipe for the Italian sausage- I just added a bunch of fresh garlic, fennel seeds, a few red chili flakes, basil and oregano.   I used a 2:1 ratio of boneless thighs and chicken breast- I wanted it lean but not totally dry.sausage stuffing 3

meat plunger

I’ve used my meat grinder attachment before to make chorizo, but had never used the sausage stuffer before, so that was a new frontier.  The first time around, I had some trouble with getting the timing down, and ended up with some air pockets, etc.  Fortunately, the second time went a lot more smoothly, which encourages me to repeat the experiment, knowing it will get easier with practice.  The directions tell you to grease the nozzle before putting the casing over it, but I found that if the casing is wet, that works much better than grease.

sausage stuffing 1

sausages diamond plate 1

You have to really be cool with playing with intestines to make your own sausage.  It’s fun, once you get the hang of it and get over the fact that what you’re putting meat into was formerly a thoroughfare for “waste material” as we’ll delicately refer to it.  Rinsing the casings is entertaining- you fit one open end over your faucet and let the water flow though, and it inflates like a water balloon.  Fun stuff!

intestine in hand

intestine balloon

sausage & beerI haven’t gotten any feedback yet from Dad, as I think he put the sausages in the freezer for later, but Marvin & I grilled a few leftovers the other night and I was pretty pleased for a first-time effort; enough so that I’m inclined to attempt it again before grilling season is through.  I’ve been dying to try a Vietnamese sausage, and maybe even a boudin noir if I can get my hands on some pig’s blood (anyone having a hookup should email me!).  If you want more info on making your own sausage, check out the blog Saucisson Mac, or if you’re really serious and don’t already have the book Charcuterie, go pick that up at your local bookstore.