Sunday, July 31, 2011

Steak Frites with Curried Eggplant Fries in the Dog Days of Summer

It has been hot in North Carolina. I mean really hot. We have regularly been having high temperatures over 100 degrees. This past week I was in Charleston, South Carolina working on project and it was even hotter. You don't know hot until you have spent a day soaking wet from your own sweat.

Sorry is that imagery gross? Archaeology is so glamourous...

Let's talk about some good stuff. I did have several really delicious meals in the little downtown area of North Charleston, near where we were staying. I should point out right now that, while I am sure there are really spectacular high end dining experiences to be had in downtown Charleston and I am sure there are good middle and low range options, I think that the downtown restaurants are a bit too expensive and touristy for my taste. When I am traveling for work, I try to eat (and drink) for under $30 a day and Charleston downtown is not the place to do that. However, we had excellent burgers and really modestly priced beers at Sesame Burgers and Beer and we had some great pizza at Park Pizza Co. Both great local businesses that seem to be really dedicated to their craft. I believe the Sesame folks grind their own beef and make all of their own condiments and those folks at Park Pizza were just really friendly and had about 100 different pizzas on offer.

By the time I got home I was wilting from the heat and humidity. This is also coinciding with the time we have been trying to get a little bit more creative with summer vegetables. You know, at the beginning of the summer you are so excited to have fresh tomatoes you could basically eat them like apples. Why get creative you have not had fresh corn since last September? By the end of July it is time to look for some variety... Last night we did just that with a variation on steak frites with a caprese salad that seemed made for those hot summer summer days when you need just a bit of something different.

Steak Frites with Curried Eggplant Fries
modified from nowhere! a Sarah and Derek original

Serves 2

Curried Eggplant Fries
1 Chinese Eggplant (the long skinny kind)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon Curry Powder (see note below)
Olive Oil (preferably in a spray bottle)

1. Peel the eggplant and slice it into french fry sized rectangles approximately 1/4 inch squared. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Salt the "fries" and let them sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to draw out moisture. Then use a paper towel to dry off the eggplant pieces.

3. On a plate or a shallow bowl mix the curry powder with the flour.

4. Spritz the eggplant pieces with olive oil and dredge them in the flavored flour. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes flipping at 15 minutes. When you flip the eggplant pieces you might want to give them another spritz with the olive oil to help them crisp up.

Note on curry powder: We make our own curry powder so it is really potent stuff. If you buy curry powder pre-made I might use 2 tablespoons. It is really easy to make though and it is delicious, I will include a recipe at the end of this post.

approximately 0.6 pounds skirt steak or flank steak (the amount depends on how carnivorous you are)
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (or canola oil)

1. Take your steak out of the refrigerator and let them warm to room temperature.

2. Get a heavy frying pan (cast iron is really best) heating to medium/medium high. You want this pan to be really hot so let it heat up for a good 8 to 10 minutes depending on your stove.

3. Pat the steak dry with paper towels and sprinkle it with salt and pepper to taste on both sides. You may have to cut it at this point so it will fit in the pan.

4. Add oil to the pan. Some people say that olive oil should not be heated past its smoking point, which this pan will certainly do, I am not one of those people. I fry things in olive oil all the time. I do not mind a little smoke. If you do mind the smoke or are one of those people, use a high smoke point oil like canola or peanut.

5. Add steak to pan. It cooks fast, for medium rare probably 3 minutes a side for a thick piece or 2 minutes a side for a thinner. In order to get a good sear put the meat on the pan and let it sit with out disturbing it until it is time to flip it. Please do not cook this meat to death, these low-fat steaks will get really really tough if they are over cooked.

6. Cover the steak with foil and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Then thinly slice it diagonally against the grain and serve with your eggplant frites.

Caprese Salad

You really don't need a recipe for caprese, there really is no wrong way to make it. The key is really good fresh mozzarella, good tomatoes, and fresh basil. Don't forget to use high quality balsalmic vinegar and olive oil, I can really taste the difference.

Good fresh tomatoes
Mozzarella (use the fresh kind in liquid)
Fresh Basil
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil

1. Thinly slice tomatoes mozzarella with a really sharp knife. Rip the basil into bit sized shreds, I say rip because I think the knife can be kind of harsh and the edges of the basil will turn brown.

2. Layer the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil on a plate. Salt this to taste. Sprinkle desired amount of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top.

Way Better Curry Powder
modified very slightly from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

This recipe make about 1/2 cup of powder, which keeps for about a month

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2-3 tablespoons red chile powder from New Mexico*
2 tablespoons ground turmeric

1. In a small pan over medium heat toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and peppercorns. Do not burn these (I burn them all the time and it is not tasty). One the spices start to get really fragrant they are toasted. Stir them constantly, it should take about 2 minutes.

2. Let them cool completely

3. Finely grind the spices in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder. Or if you coffee grinder is broken, make your husband grind them with your mortar and pestle. This will take forever.

4. Once the spices are ground add the chili powder and turmeric in a small bowl.

5. Store in an airtight container away from sunlight. Use on everything.

*This is chile powder, not chili powder. Chile powder is made by grinding up dried pepper. Chili powder is some weird blend of spices that currently does not have a home in my kitchen. We use this stuff you buy by the ziploc bag full in New Mexico. Check out your local tienda, they probably have something similar. The key is freshness.

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