Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cooking Class, Part III

On February 9, I took my third cooking class in the series "Getting Started in the Kitchen." This time, we covered saute, fry, and stir-fry. We learned to cook Peppercorn steak, Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-Fry, Pan Fried Chicken, and Deep Fried Cherry Fritters. I came home smelling like McDonald's.

The Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-Fry was my favorite dish of the lesson, but I thought Captain America would enjoy the Peppercorn Steak, so that's the one I made first. We don't eat a lot of fried food, so I'm not likely to try the Pan Fried Chicken. The Deep Fried Cherry Fritters were good, but I don't own a deep fryer (okay, why does fry and fryer have a y, but fried does not?). Also, I'm not convinced they were actually better than desserts that I'm good at making that don't involve 375-degree oil sitting inches from my skin. And in case you don't already think I'm weird enough, my sister and I were the two kids at parties who picked the skin off of their KFC, insisting that it was like eating a sunburn. If that thought doesn't make you want to try some of my cooking, I don't know what will!

Oh, and one other thing! I asked why you put salt in baked goods, and I got a less than satisfying answer. Apparently salt helps bring out the flavor of other ingredients, adds a savory "hit," and is sort of a preservative (as in salted butter). The last bit I already knew. In the fourth class, we had a salt tasting and further established that I am not a foodie, but I'll blog about that later. Nonetheless, I'm still not convinced of the salt thing. Especially since I read that if every American reduced their salt intake by one teaspoon a day we would no longer have a high blood pressure problem. I love things like that. Also, if every American took the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator we wouldn't have an obesity problem. First, I don't go to work to sweat, and second, I'm pretty sure I'm not contributing to the obesity problem. Or the blood pressure problem, for that matter. At any rate, I'm still dissatisfied with the salt situation, so I think next time I'll ask what happens to the recipe if I omit salt.

Alright, sub-rant finished! On to what I actually cooked. Tonight I made my husband and sister Sauteed Pepper Steaks with Brandy Cream Sauce. Except celiac-sister can't have brandy, so we used white wine. Apparently red wine would have worked, but it would have turned the sauce pink (I am always asking the celiac questions in class...there is no point in my learning to cook something if I can't feed my sister, because sooner or later she's going to want to know what I've learned, and if family is visiting, she'll be over for dinner, too.)

I have got to learn to tell a story in a straight line! During dinner, sis and I were joking around, and I commented that it wasn't so much that I hadn't considered dropping a bit of flour into a recipe, it was that I was afraid of our mother! And then I added, I know that thought's crossed your mind once or twice, too, and she said yes, but that there was no killer ingredient to do me in. Somehow that's funnier when I'm telling my sister all of the things she can't have.

Alright, now I'm really going to move on to the recipe. It serves four.

What you need:
4 New York Strip Steaks, about 8 oz. each
1/4 c black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/3 c brandy
1 1/2 c demi glace (concentrated veal stock)
1 c heavy cream
salt to taste

What you do (and what I did):
Pat the steaks dry with paper towels.

Place the cracked peppercorns in a dish. Press the steaks into the peppercorns to give a light coating on both side. Or, if you're like me and not a huge fan of peppercorns, and are not entirely convinced that you actually need 1/4 c, I had Captain America grind a bunch of pepper onto a plate. It kept him busy for a few minutes, and our steaks weren't overly peppery.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the oil.

Arrange the steaks in the pan and saute them until they feel slightly resistant when you press on them, about 3-5 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a serving plate and cover with a foil tent to retain the heat.

In class we learned this little trick for determining doneness. Shake out your non-dominant hand. Touch that meaty spot at the base of your thumb. That's rare. Touch your pinky to your thumb. That's medium-rare. Touch your ring-finger to your thumb. That's medium. Touch your middle finger to your thumb. That's medium well. And if you touch your pointer finger to your thumb, that's well done. Except this doesn't work if you lift weights because your hands are too strong. So no one in my household can help me test doneness. I thought about asking one of my coworkers if I could touch her hands today, just to get an idea, but I thought somehow that was a bad idea, even if I explained why I wanted to.

I think my steaks were fatter than the ones we used in class, because we did the tented thing, but I still had to put them in the oven for about 10 minutes, at which point the potatoes got cold, so it wasn't the biggest success of my culinary career, but the steaks were good.

And now let me tell you what you're going to do with all of the other ingredients.

In the same pan used for the steaks, over low heat, saute the shallots for 1 minute.

To keep the alcohol from flaming (which is a very bad idea unless you have a very good hood system), remove the pan from the heat and add the brandy. Or in our case, wine.

Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, scraping up all of the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the brandy by one-third.

Add the demi glace and the heavy cream. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Next time, I think I'm going to add the cream and then the demi glace, because the demi glace does this somewhat frightening melting thing, and I was worried it was going to burn and turn awful before I could dump in the cream and stir it. Adjust the seasoning and remove the pan from the heat. I didn't add any salt. I think the demi glace was salty enough. And if you don't keep stirring, the sauce will get a thin film on top--this is a cream sauce we're making.

Serve the steaks topped with the sauce.

A steamed green vegetable like asparagus or green beans makes a nice accompaniment. Like I said, we did potatoes. I thought Captain America would like that. And sis made a salad. All in all, it was a good meal, but my timing was a bit off, and I think I'll try to find thinner steaks next time. Also, between the demi glace and the steaks, it was a little expensive. But I did buy my demi glace in a gourmet store. I was there; it didn't contain gluten. 'Nuff said.

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