Soon perhaps, rains will have subsided and the heavens opened with a silver-blue luster that promises us sweet spring winds and mild summer days. At that sunny juncture, we will shift our menu to fresh spring vegetables and mushrooms.
In the meantime, however, I refresh my optimism through cooking and eating. Though it does little for my waistline, the hearty flavors of winter cuisine raise my spirits.
I have a habit of shopping sales. This holds true for meat, seafood and vegetables. A recent visit to Uwajimaya in Beaverton supplied me with bok choy, Chinese long beans, Japanese eggplants and Asian broccoli. The fusion of different cuisines is both creative and satisfying.
Savory hearty foods command a bottle of good red wine and the laughter of friends. With this meal, we drank a stunning bottle of Quaintree 2014 pinot noir, as sublime as the first February sunrise. The winemaker, Savanna Mills, is the niece of Melissa Mills, one of the owners of Brick House Vineyards in Newberg. Their wines represent a Burgundian style and are simply divine.
Steaks are expensive and therefore a special treat. We often hold out for friends or celebrations.
For stews and soups, slow cooking saves the day and the budget. Meats like pork or beef make for tender pot roast through slow cooking. The possibilities are endless. In the culinary world, patience and careful shopping are great virtues.
A steak demands a rapid searing. Medium-rare is generally the favored selection.
I found four fillets of tri-tip loin steak, and marinated them with virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and red wine. Then, I sprinkled on a nice sea salt before wiping the meat with a mixture of crushed garlic and olive oil. Here is a quick recipe for the dry application:
- 1 teaspoon of Szechuan peppers
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper, preferably Tellicherry
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seed
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of smoked sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of Hatch chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
Throw the spices in a coffee grinder. Spin for five seconds. Sprinkle the rub over the marinated steaks on both sides. Let them rest for at least a couple hours. Sauté the steaks in a hot cast-iron skillet for 90 to 120 seconds on each side for medium-rare, at 135 degrees. Transfer and hold in a warm oven.
A half-reduced brown stock (chicken stock with soy) thickened with a roux or corn starch (and a little water with the corn starch) makes a lovely sauce for the meat.
Add a couple tablespoons of an Asian sauce like Yoshita’s or a teriyaki blend. I love to enrich the flavor by adding a 1/2 tablespoon of mushroom dust to the mixture. Call it terroir. The sauce is finished when it shines like silk and the fragrance erupts across the kitchen.
One warning: Slice the tri-tip thinly and across the grain.
Baby bok choy is a fine companion to red meat. Preparation is simple. Cut the vegetables through the root-end in halves or quarters and steam in a wok until tender. Or boil in a pan until tender, remove the water, and saute briefly in butter or olive oil. Salt. Pour a tablespoon or two of sweet chili sauce on the bok choy. Toss and serve.
Cut small yellow potatoes into wedges, eight to a spud. Par-boil until the potatoes are just soft. Do not overcook. Pour a quarter cup of olive oil into a saute pan, bring to medium heat, and then add a tablespoon of fennel seed and as much garlic as you like. Brown the mixture until translucent. Sprinkle in a ½ teaspoon of turmeric, and saute until the potatoes are golden and crispy.
Turmeric gives you a lovely yellow color and enhances the dish without overwhelming the cook with too strong a flavor. A few dried chilis add a nice heat. Chopped parsley is colorful against the turmeric.
I love to collect wild mushrooms, but with such a short season, I recommend slicing a porcini mushroom about a ¼ inch wide, vacuum sealing, then freezing the package for later consumption. Added to a sauce, the delicate morsels simply enhance flavors to another level.
With frozen mushrooms, chop cross-wise and dry sauté. Without oil, mushrooms brown. Best yet, they leave no liquid, which can turn them squishy. The mushrooms will be firm and dress up any sauce. Off-season, a store-bought cremini mushrooms are a good alternative. I also like to reconstitute the wood ear mushroom, which can be found in Asian markets.
The point is, mushrooms enhance nearly every meat. Their health benefits are far-reaching.
Eat heartily and drink to your health.