Thursday, April 2, 2009

Footware to Fantasy

I have this love-hate relationship with steak. For the longest time, I thought that I just didn't like it. After all, it was tough, chewy, and bland. It took an A1 bath to get me to eat it at all. It turns out that I was missing something pretty vital: My da' has the uncanny ability to turn any piece of meat into a piece of shoes. All the time I thought I was eating strips and sirloins, I was actually eating the equivalent of tongues and heels. Can you blame me for not liking it?

This has led to me being picky about steak. When it's cooked right, it's delicious. If it's not cooked right, it brings me right back to the days of pulling laces out of my teeth and choking on aglets. A note on 'cooked right'...I'm an open-minded and non-judgmental individual. That means I will tolerate up to 'medium'. Everybody who is anybody knows that the proper way to order your steak is medium rare. Getting a steak 'medium well' or bygods 'well done' is saying: "Please burn the crap out of my delicious and often pricy meat! I'd much rather chew for 20 minutes than enjoy a savory meal!" I don't care if you tell me that it's "just the way I like it"....You're wrong, and you disgust me.

Now, most people seem to order steaks the wrong way, leading to many restuarant cooks being unable cook a steak the right way to save their lives. For example, exhibit A:

A well done(burnt) steak and an ocean of MashPotate

I don't mean to imply that I'm a food snob what gets pissy about every over-cooked piece of meat. In this case, it wasn't bad. I had just wolfed a huge amount of cheese fries (the remains of which will be the next post) and some soup (which tasted and looked exactly like white gravy with potatoes added). I picked at it, but seeing that it was burnt, I decided it was better served as blog-fodder than anything else.

The thing about leftovers...It is never the same meal as it was the first time. Even if you ignore a re-cook's advice and just eat them straight up, it is fundementally different. The first time, your food was served fresh off the heat (and likely still cooking). In much the same way that heating changes the texture and falvor of food (we call this 'cooking' in the biz), cooling back down has the same effect. In a way, cooling your food down in the fridge overnight is merely another type of cooking method. Trippy thought.

The long winded and belabored point here is this: Just because your food wasn't very good the first time does not mean that the leftovers won't be any good. Today is a prime example of this practice, which I'll term Reincarnation. What started as an overcooked steak and some seriously bland potatoes turned into one of the best tasting things I've cooked in a long time.

Case the Fourth: Let There Be Shepherd's Pie

Source Food: Most of a 'Cowboy Sirloin' with Garlic Mash from Rafferty's.

Pantry Items:

Cheesy Biscuit mix (easier to deal with then the canned pre-made variety, since it doesn't expire), red pepper flake, fennel seed, Woozy (Re-Cook gold here. Woozy is one of those things that will turn something from being bland to being awesome. When you're buying it, check the label...if it doesn't have anchovies in it, put it back), Frozen Moir Poix mix (fancy cook word for Carrots, Onion, and Celery), Frozen Peas (frozen veggies are awesome, and I always try to keep at least several varieties on hand)

Lastly, the biscuit mix calls for water. But water is pretty 'meh', so I wanted to use milk. Except that my milk is Gone Round The Bend. Cue a re-cook staple: Powdered Milk. Still your knee-jerk reaction here, and think about how many times you've gone to the fridge wanting to cook something only to find out that you don't have any good milk. How many times have you had to pass on mac-n-cheese and choke down yet another pizza or bowl of ramen becausey milk is stupid and only lasts a week? The twin gods of Value and Sloth demand a better answer, and that answer is powdered milk. Buy a box and stick it in the back of the pantry, behind everything else, a secret kept from all your friends and family (hide your shame!). When you use it, mix it double strength and pretend. Does it taste like milk? Not a chance in hell. But it does taste 'milk-y' and when your actual milk becomes 'cheese-y', you'll be glad you listened to your friendly re-cook.


My original idea for steak was a Wellington (which is still in the cards, so stay tuned!), but I had that whole mess of mashed to deal with. Instead, I took another great tip from Sara and went with Shepherd's Pie.

Note: My friend Mandy suggested that I do a Vegetarian Option. Well, to all the vegetarian types reading, you do have an option. It's called 'meat' and it's absolutely delicious! Offensiveness aside, I work with what I've got skulking in my fridge, and so far it's been meaty. Vegemeals will happen eventually, have no fear.

Ok, it's time to rock. Oven on 350. Tossed some of the moir poix mix into the pan with some butter on medium high heat. Chopped up the steak into bits, and ground up some of the fennel seed in my spice grinder (they're marketed at 'coffee' or as 'spice' grinders, and you can get 'em cheap). Once the Veg was good and soft, I added the meat in a big pile. Then I splashed a whole lot of Woozy over it.

We're in flavor country, here.
I put the biscuit mix in a bowl, used the rest of my 'milk' (probably close to a cup of the powder), and added 1 cup of water. Whisked all that up and let it set. Mix was coming along nicely, so I added even more Woozy and a couple of teaspoons of flour to gravy it up a bit. Look at this:

It all turned into the best food color ever: Brown
Added the frozen peas (don't ever put peas in until last, else they explode into mushnasty). Spoon it all into your vessel of choice (a classy glass pie pan for me). Flatten it out and pat it down with your implement.

Could the peas be more unevenly distributed?
I nuked the potatoes for the lesser amount. Microwaves have all these fancy settings, but it's not really necessary. All you need is a popcorn setting, a 1-lb defrost, 45 seconds, and 1:15. If it's not done in 45, give it another 45. If it's not done in 1:15, give it another 1:15. You're going to want to stir whatever it is up anyway, so why muck around with all the timing guess work?

I didn't need them hot, I just needed to soften them up so I could spread them on top of the meatpile (used a fork, worked fine). Next, pour your biscuit mix over the potatoes. That's pretty much all there is to it. I have a shitty oven, so I covered it with aluminium foil for 20min, and then cooked it uncovered for another 15. If you try to bake things and the top burns before it's done all the way through, use foil. End result:

*tears up* It's so beautiful

Seriously, why aren't you eating this right now?

Pie with huge monster bite out. Yeah, I did that with my mouth, dripping hot beef and gravy all down my chin.

Ease: A+ (this is so easy to do its ridiculous. I took like 10 minutes of prep and 35 to cook.)
Flavor: S+ (I ate a bowlful. Then, ate another bowlful. Then, started on the post. Then had to stop because I was looking at all the pictures, and had to eat more of it. It's that good.)
Criminality: F (This dish is not criminal, it's miraculous. Jesus turned water into wine. I turned crappy old burnt steak into this. I'm not going to post the score here, but you can guess.)

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