52 Weeks of Cooking – Dipping my Toes In

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been looking for a new project to work on and to apply my love of cooking. A friend of mine does a 365 day a year challenge (he’s completed his first year and is on to his second). I considered a similar challenge for my cooking, but decided that daily cooking challenges might not work in to any travel or holidays we take. Instead, I’ve decided to pursue Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge. Each week of the year has a theme, such as: Acid, Fire, Steakhouse, French. Your submission to the community must follow that week’s theme, but the theme is open for some interpretation. For example, you could make S’mores themed deserts or a light-your-mouth-up hot sauce for the Fire week. Acid might be something pickled in acid, seasoned with acid, perhaps a citrus-centric dessert. My plan is to do the full 2017 52 weeks of challenges, but I wanted to dip my toes in now and get used to the submission process and to planning out the recipes.

We’re in week 40 right now and the theme is “Steakhouse.”  I almost skipped this week, because in all honesty cooking steaks at home is not my forte. I have tried it a few times in the past and while the results were totally edible, they didn’t come close to rivaling my favorite steak-consumption-experiences (looking at you Hank’s and Echo & Rig in Vegas). Instead of shirking from this week’s challenge, I dove right in. This turned out to be a great experience to get me out of my cooking rut and to take on things I thought were out of my capabilities. My menu for this week included: Alton Brown’s Cast-Iron Steak, Potatoes Romanoff, and Balsamic Green Beans. Here are the ingredients (minus spices, and the potatoes which were currently roasting in the oven):

p1000383-2Ingredients for the whole meal, minus the potatoes and spices. Container below the almonds is filled with roasted garlic. Kerrygold Fresh Thyme

Ingredients for the whole meal, minus the potatoes and spices. Container below the almonds is filled with roasted garlic.

 

I’ll start with the green beans, as those were the easiest part of the meal. I used Aldi’s Seasonal Selection Haricot Vert beans from their frozen section. These are inexpensive and super easy to work with. I try to always have a bag of these in the freezer for a quick side dish. I sauteed these in avocado oil, with 3 cloves of the roasted garlic in my favorite chef’s pan. Once cooked to my preferred doneness (I like some snap and bite left in mine), I topped these with silvered toasted almonds and a drizzle of already-made balsamic reduction.

Green beans with balsamic reduction and toasted almonds.

Green beans with balsamic reduction and toasted almonds.

The Potatoes Romanoff is a recipe of my own creation/adaptation, inspired by the Strip House recipe and Can’t Stay Out of the Kitchen. This recipe turned out FANTASTIC and instantly was saved to my recipe database to bring out later. This would be a really great holiday or potluck dish for some time when you need to take something along pre-prepped. It reheats incredibly well and is very forgiving. I imagine there’s a way to adapt this for a slow cooker pretty easily. Here’s the recipe:

Potatoes Romanoff

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Russet Potatoes (2lbs.)
  • 2 3/4 Cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream, full or low fat
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Milk, whole or 2%
  • 3 Shallots, diced
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • Salt, Pepper, Paprika

Method:

  1. Peel your potatoes or scrub them down, if leaving the skins on. I left mine on. Wrap each potato in foil. Roast in the oven at 425 F for 55 minutes.
  2. While the potatoes are baking, prep the shallots and garlic. Saute the shallots in your choice of fat over a medium heat until translucent and starting to caramelize. Add in garlic for a couple minutes at the end, being careful not to burn the garlic. You could use pre-roasted garlic like I did. If so, no need to add it to the shallots.
  3. Once potatoes are done, you have a few options. Either mash them by hand (my preference), or run them through a ricer. You can also let them cool and grate them with a box grater or food processor. I like my potatoes to be a little more chunky, so I like to do them by hand.
  4. Mix the now-mashed potatoes with the sour cream, butter, and milk. Fold in 2 cups of the cheese (reserving 3/4 C for the topping). Add shallots, garlic, 1 t. Paprika, and salt/pepper to taste.
  5. Place potato mixture in a casserole dish of choice (I went with a 2 1/2 quart Corningware casserole). Top with remaining 3/4 C of cheese and a sprinkling of paprika. I went heavy on the paprika because I just love it.
  6. Cover with lid or foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove cover and brown cheese for 5 minutes or until your preference. I ended up turning the broiler on for just a minute to do this.

p1000433

For my steak, I used Alton Brown’s Cast Iron Steak method. I absolutely made a mistake, but the steak still game out pretty darn wonderful. Even my hubs, the steak-snob, agreed. This method involved heating a cast iron skillet in the oven (500 degrees F) until it’s slightly smoking. Then heating it further over a burner on the stove top, at high heat. You place your lightly oiled, seasoned steak in the screaming hot skillet for 30-90 seconds per side (depending on what version of the recipe you find). This is supposed to ensure a solid sear on the outside. You finishing the steak in the oven, still at 500 F, flipping halfway through. We did it for 4 minutes per side. My mistake was in the searing portion and not letting my pan get hot enough before putting the steak in. Still, the steak came out a positively perfect medium rare, tender and plenty juicy. Important to note: Resting the steak is key to
the tender, juicy steak we all know and love. I rested these bad boys in foil, topped with a bit of butter, for a full 10 minutes after cooking. Both my husband and I were both most impressed by how even and uniform the cooking was with this method. In the past, I’ve had problems with one side of a steak being significantly more cooked than another side. Or where the middle is quite rare while the outside is closer to over medium. I liked how the doneness of the steak was a subtle graduation from outside to center. I would absolutely make this again, but with more focus on the sear at the beginning. The little sear I did get was fantastic, but more would take this over the top for me.

Reddit 52 weeks of cooking Week 40 Steakhouse meal

The finished meal – Delicious!

What I learned this week:

First, I learned that I am capable of balancing various dishes cook times/heats at the same time. I tend to cook a lot of easy dishes, slow cooker/pressure cooker stuff. I love me some one-pot-wonders. That said, those have become a real crutch for me and tend to be the only things I make anymore. This reminded me that, although challenging, it’s not impossible. It also reminded me that starting with a clean kitchen and cleaning along the way is the key to surviving the after math of a many-pot meal.

Second, I learned that I’m a better cook than I thought I was. I tend to stick to one-pot meals not just because they’re easy, but because I fear my own failure in the kitchen. I have solid basics and a good understanding of cooking, even if my execution falls short sometimes. The sides were spot on and though the steak fell short of perfect, it was a good first filet effort. I think this undertaking will get me to take on more challenging endeavors in the future.

Stay tuned next week, when I’ll tackle Week 41: Bottle/Jarred Sauces from Scratch!

 

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