Steak – 12/7/09

Lately I’ve been trying to find the butcher shop with the best steaks in LA. Steaks are something I cook on a somewhat regular basis, and I feel I can now cook a good one consistently. A while ago, I told myself what I would only cook USDA Choice steaks until I knew I could cook consistently – it would be tragic to overcook a Prime piece of beef. So, now has come the time.

I had read LA Mag’s food lover’s issue where they had a segment on butcher shops in LA. Last weekend, I checked out one of them, Alexander’s Prime Meats, in San Gabriel, which had USDA Prime beef from Harris Ranch. Taking a look at the meats, I was a little disappointed as the marbling on them looked akin to what I would expect for a Choice grade piece of meat. I decided to try out a rib-eye anyway and found it good, but not too tender and not outstanding – basically, I couldn’t distinguish it from a good Choice steak.

This past weekend I checked out Marconda’s Meats in the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax. They primarily serve certified Piedmontese beef from a ranch in Montana. Piedmontese cattle, originating in Italy, are known for its tenderness and lower fat content. Taking a look at the steaks, the New York really caught my eye.

A picture of the steak I purchased is below.

Immediately, I noticed the steaks’ marbling. It looked like what I thought looked like USDA Prime, much more marbled than the ones at Alexander’s.  So, I had to try one out.

My preferred cook-at-home steak method is to get a cast iron skillet as hot as possible, sear both sides, and then to put it on a rack and finish in the oven. This creates a nice crust on the steak, while maximizing the pink meat in the middle of the steak. One of the ways I judge how well a steak is cooked, aside from doneness, is how much brown area there is on each side of the steak. Ideally, this will be minimized, and leaving juicy medium rare meet in the center.

I seasoned the steak with garlic salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

Then, it was placed in the superhot cast iron skillet to sear.

After being finished in the oven, I took the steak out with an internal temperature of 125 degrees.  I let it rest to let the juices redistribute, and it settled at about 133 degrees after resting.

I decided to cut up the steak on a cutting board first to really get a look at the meat. This was the moment of truth!

I got a pretty good sear on the crust; however I think I seared it a little too long on each side. The brown around the outside of the meat was thin but noticeable.  The meat was definitely more tender and had a nice flavor. It wasn’t as juicy as other steaks I’ve had though. Unlike the steak from Alexander’s, I could tell a bit of a difference from a Choice grade steak. Was it the best steak I’ve cooked? Hard to say. Maybe…but I’ll have to keep searching.

Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake – 12/6/09

There aren’t too many things as soul-satisfying as a nice risotto on a cold day. Even better – one full of seafood. Thus, on this winter night, a seafood risotto was in order. Also, I had recently read Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe and it sounded so incredibly simple and easy, I figured I had to give it a try. The menu was complete.

Now, I found myself at four grocery stores on Sunday, trying to get the right ingredients. I don’t think it was so much the lack of selection of the stores, but maybe the fact that I’m picky…really picky when I cook – I want everything to go right. The chief ingredient decisions were:

What type of seafood to use?
I ended up using fillets of swai, shrimp, mussels and bay scallops. These were all pretty easy to work with, and I thought they’d all go well.

What type of cheese to use?
Most recipes call for Parmesan here. So I found a block of Parmigiano Reggiano to use – I like the mildly salty and nutty flavors in this cheese. I’m not as picky about the whole cheese-seafood thing.

What type of chocolate to use?
Ideally, I wanted Valhrona. Jean-Georges recommended it, and Thomas Keller always uses it – so naturally, this was the choice. However, I couldn’t find any. However, I had seen on America’s Test Kitchen that Ghirardelli chocolate came in first in testing for baking chocolates, so I got a package of their bittersweet chocolate.

Making a risotto is actually rather simple. My recipe was to saute some onions and garlic, add Arborio rice, add white wine, and then continually add heated stock until the risotto is al dente. At that point, I would stir in some fresh parsley, the cheese, and the seafood (which i would pan sear separately).

The risotto, almost fully cooked.

The addition of the seafood to the risotto.

The seafood plated.

The chocolate cakes were next. My recipe involved melting the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, whisking eggs and sugar separately, and then whisking the egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Finally, flour was whisked in to create a batter, and this was poured into buttered ramekins and baked at 450 degrees.

The chocolate cake coming out of the oven.

Chocolate cake plated.

I guess I’d have to say I was satisfied with how the meal turned out. The risotto was delicious and was the most important part of the meal, and I thought it was cooked pretty well. The chocolate cakes, while not molten, were still tasty – next time I should be able to perfect it.

Thanksgiving 2009 – 11/26/09

There are a number of traditions my family has every year. One that is shared amongst most families in America is that there is always a ton of food. As has been the case the past several years, we go to my mom’s sister’s for lunch, and to my dad’s mom’s for dinner – effectively having two Thanksgiving meals. It’s a great compromise I think. The food is pretty American with some Chinese dishes and influences. Turkey has never really been the centerpiece, but it’s always been included for ‘tradition sake.’

LUNCH

Lunch is served buffet-style, and is largely a potluck from a number of families, led by my aunt.

Some of the finger foods include deviled eggs, shrimp on toast, egg rolls, and taquitos.

On the other side of the room are the entrees and sides.

Shown above are country fried potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a chicken pot pie and fruit salad.

Here we have fried wontons, Caesar salad, carved turkey and pork ribs. The turkey was beautifully carved and presented (see below for a close-up). The pork ribs are cooked low and slow over charcoal for a couple of hours to ensure they are moist and tender to the point that they are just about falling off the bone.

Two of the main recurring sides each year are chinese sticky rice and chow mein. These both are made in huge quantities and pre-packed to aid in the leftovers process.

A close-up of the carved turkey is below.

Close-up of the ribs.

There were an array of homemade desserts, including an apple-cranberry-nut tart below (there was another fancier tart-like word, but I don’t remember what that was).

Also, there were a couple of pies made by Elizabeth Faulkner herself (of Citizen Cake, and Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters fame).  My cousin’s cousin’s husband works for her, and she gave them as a holiday gift. Naturally, I had to try these. There was a pecan pie

and a pumpkin pie.

I was expecting a lot from these pies given Faulkner’s resume. The pecan was first. The filling broke apart so easily that the first slices did not resemble a pie, rather clumps of filling over some crust. I found the crust to be a little underbaked, and the filling was kind of unremarkable. Now, I’m not a huge pecan pie person anyways, but the flavors of pecan, chocolate and whiskey didn’t do it for me.

Next was the pumpkin pie, which was a lot better. The filling was smooth and pumpkin-cinnamon tasting, and the crust was nice and flaky here. Definitely closer to what I was expecting the pies to be.

DINNER

Dinner is a more traditional family-around-the-dinner table affair. Most everything is prepared by my grandmother. The centerpiece, as has been for as long as I can remember, is a roast of beef – in this case, a New York strip loan roast.

The roast being carved.

The other meat option this year was, of course, turkey, white meat shown carved.

My grandmother also made a soup to start with with a chicken broth base, including pork, dates and dried tofu.

The sides included traditional stuffing,

Chinese sticky rice,

mashed potatoes, gravy, and a mixed vegetable dish.

To finish off the meal, as if we needed anything else, was a cake from Sweet Stop – layers of vanilla and chocolate cake with custard in between.

Sweet Stop’s cakes are consistently moist and tasty, and this one was not an exception. We come to them for cakes for pretty much every special occasion.

Two days later, I still feel full recounting all this food. Though, I’m already anticipating what will be cooked up for Christmas this year!