Anyone who has waded through more than just a few of my posts will have invariably stumbled across the fact that, besides writing, food is an important part of my life. Some people eat to live, others live to eat. I am firmly intrenched in the second camp. Yes folks, its another foodie post…
This past Sunday (March 10th) was a study in contrasts. First of all, March weather in Northern Virginia can be unpredictable (ask any local meteorologist). This Sunday, temperatures were in the mid 60s (fahrenheit)—shirt sleeve weather. But on Wednesday, just 4 days before that, we were slopping around in 4 inches of ugly slush that thankfully didn’t develop into as substantial a snow storm as the flummoxed local weathermen had been predicting.
It was one of those heart attack snows where each shovelful seemed to weigh in at double-digit numbers (of pounds, or kilos if you prefer) before sluicing off the edges in a wet plop. It was a wet, grey, ugly nuisance of a snow. About the only thing it was good for was snowballs but it wasn’t much fun to be out in so what was the point? We built a fire, stayed inside as much as possible and, along with everyone else, went around muttering, “Okay, enough. I’m ready for spring.” Well our prayers were answered. This weekend was flawless and the charcoal grill was given the chance to shed winter’s pall.
Our son is home for Spring Break, the sun was out, skies were blue, birds were singing and I had plenty of charcoal in the garage. I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. My dinner menu was drawn up: grilled Argentinian steak with Chimichurri sauce, grilled onion slabs, homemade coleslaw and leftover macaroni and cheese. My shopping list was compiled and I headed to the store in search of some New York Strip steaks.
But that wasn’t the only thing on my list. There had been an article in the Washington Post detailing 40 dishes at area restaurants that should not be missed. One was a concoction that I thought would be fun to try to replicate but would require the aid of a neighbor of mine because he has a deep-fat frier (and he’s usually crazy enough to go along with my ideas). So canola oil, peanut butter cups and bacon were added to my grocery list. Yes, before throwing dinner on the grill, I decided it would be fun to spend the afternoon distracting ourselves with a bit of folly: deep-fried, bacon-wrapped, peanut butter cups. All of those artery clogging ingredients were to come together into little, fried golden packages, which were dusted with powdered sugar.
My heart, which had survived the snow storm, was probably healthy enough to make it through this, however, we approached the first bite with trepidation. It was better than you might think and at the same time not as good as I had hoped. The main complaint was that the bacon was a bit chewy. We couldn’t get the bacon crispy and still have it pliable enough to wrap around the Reese’s cup. We made a pancake batter that substituted cola instead of milk which was interesting and the carbonation injected some lightness into the batter. Often the chocolate overpowered the peanut butter but there were a few (yes I had more than one) that were perfectly balanced between all three flavors. My friend Dan held that deep-fried Oreos were still his favorite. It was an interesting experiment but I am not sure it was worth the effort. Contrary to popular belief not everything is better with bacon. If we were to do it again I’d probbly just do the peanut butter cups but I’d still be sure to have the defibrillator paddles warmed up just in case—STAND CLEAR!…
Now we go from the ridiculous to the sublime. Dinner was heavenly. No lie. I found New York Strip steaks that were close to one and a half inches thick, trimmed off the hard fat, patted them dry, dusted them with a mixture of salt and corn starch and stuck them uncovered in the freezer for 30 minutes. All of this is aimed at drying out the meat’s surface as much as possible which will give you a wonderful exterior crust found in the best steak houses at 40 bucks a serving. I simply seasoned the steaks with pepper just before throwing them on the grill. An optional, small, soaked hunk of hickory was thrown on the coals to give a little smoke flavor and the meat was grilled to an internal temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare and I let the meat rest for 10 minutes before thinly carving the steaks into blissful slices to be served up and consumed between groans of approval.
Chimichurri sauce is a mixture of finely chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a little dried oregano, 6 cloves of minced garlic, some red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar all emulsified with extra virgin olive oil. It is a wonderfully bright, lemony, grassy condiment with a little heat from the pepper flakes and some earthy undertones coming from the olive oil. It was served in a pitcher allowing each person around the table to spoon as much as they liked over their slices of meat. The coleslaw was the classic recipe off the Hellman’s Mayonnaise bottle which is hard to improve upon, and I also sliced a sweet yellow onion into half-inch rounds and sent a skewer through each to hold them together. Salt and pepper were all that was needed and the onions were placed above the coals until lightly charred. The skewers were removed and rings were separated into a serving bowl. Mac and cheese leftovers (always tasting better on the second day) were warmed to round out the meal.
It was a gastronomic triumph. The beef with enough crusty tooth on the outside was still perfectly pink and tender on the inside. The Chimichurri sauce served as a perfect foil to the meaty, smokey flavors. There is nothing like onions, grilled until they are soft, sweet and lightly caramelized. The aroma alone is generally worth the small amount of effort. Coleslaw was the perfect taste of summer on a rare warm early March weekend and the leftover pasta provided a bit of starch along side the protein Four days later, I am still reveling in the memory of a fine meal, on a delightful evening with superb company. What could have been better? Well, leftovers would have been nice.