Saturday, July 14, 2012

Come Take a Ride on the Citric Acid Cycle!

There are so many food blogs out there right now.

 It seems that there is a never ending appetite for food based television.

Increasingly, people are taking their diet into their own hands and realizing that they really do need good, wholesome food.

So, if there are so many others with admittedly more skill, experience and talent than I in regards to culinary capability, why do this at all? The simple (and only necessary) answer is that I enjoy it. And, if some other people may benefit or find inspiration, that is just gravy, delicious, thick gravy.

Every time I consider what meal I should document and use for a blog entry, I definitely try and keep the cost, effort and required preparation and cooking time within the same parameters that I would for a "normal" meal. That said, meals vary wildly in these aspects in our household and it is hard not to try and come up with something special -- something worth writing about. Most of the ingredients that I've featured are things that we would normally keep in the pantry or the refrigerator. This is the goal of cooking in our household regardless of blog writing and picture taking, to eat well, healthy and within a reasonable budget.

I really love steak. I know right? What a surprise. Grilling a top-sirloin or New York Strip Steak is always a pleasure, and something that I've learned to do quite well over the years. I'm sure that soon enough, I will have a blog post all about an expensive cut of meat, grilled to perfection.

However, tonight, I am trying to take a lower quality cut of meat into a juicy, tender, grilled beef steak.

To do this I'm primarily using acid. Luckily, we have an pre-packaged little citric acid bombs all over in our yard in the form of lemons and grapefruits. I used 3 large lemons and one grapefruit. I squeezed them all, and zested one of the lemons.

The marinade:

  • 3 large lemons (squeezed -- zest of one of the rinds)
  • 1 medium grapefruit (squeezed)
  • 5 garlic cloves (diced)
  • 2 medium shallots (diced)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • large pinch crushed red pepper (variable)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 0.5 cup parsley (rough chopped)

I'd like for the steak to sit in this acid bath for 24 hours, but we're gonna go live with only 8 hours of marination. This site talks about the negative aspects of marinading for long periods, but in my experience, I've not had a problem with this particular marinade and having the meat dry out. In fact, I've used a similar marinade with thick cut top-sirloin steaks, and the consensus was that it worked very well -- perhaps the salt and soy sauce counter-acted any "burning" of the meat by the acid, granted I wouldn't keep the expensive meats marinating for 24 hours, though. I'm not really sure, but the end results have proved delicious. 

Setting the meat aside for a moment, I'd like to introduce Larry's Produce. Many of you who live north of San Francisco undoubtedly know about Larry's, but for those who live within a reasonable driving distance of Fairfield and have never been to Larry's, you must make an effort to visit. For the same reason I love most farmer's markets, I love Larry's. Indeed, there is more variety than even the largest farmer's market can provide and the price is much lower than any farmer's market I've ever been to. The only downside is that the place is always so busy! This morning I visited Larry's and having only been there a few times prior, I'm still not acclimated to the price difference, and this morning, per my usual routine, I usually have a rough running estimate of the total bill. I picked out and filled a large bag and only stopped shopping because I was thinking that I was pushing $30. My bill came to $11.20. I was tempted to put the bag in the car and come back for another round -- the only problem being that my wife and I can only eat so much before it starts to go bad! 

I'm not sure what the cost was for the three-dozen or so okra (the plural of okra is okra, not okras, as I initially wanted to write) but I'm sure it was minimal. I spent nearly two years living in Tampa, FL, and even though Florida (especially Tampa) is not usually considered the South, it was as close as I had come to living in a place that held to the southern traditions of cooking -- and ever hope to come again! I came to love okra -- steamed, fried and grilled okra is one of the handful things that I am thankful for, from my time in Florida. Usually okra is breaded and fried, which is tasty, to be sure. However, I'm going to grill the okra. For 8 hours prior, they will be sitting in a bath of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt. In order to not break with blog format, here is the ingredients list:
  • 24 okra
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 0.25 balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Just like the steak and it's marinade, the okra need to be stirred around so that the flesh are evenly subjected to the juicy goodness. 

I don't always think that a protein need be accompanied by a starch, in fact, increasingly I have eliminated rice, pasta, bread and potatoes, not because I think carbohydrates are inherently bad, but because, like most things, they need to be eaten in proper proportion (which is not what the food pyramid provides for.) There is no doubt in my mind that much, if not all of the excess adipose tissue that I've carried around in wildly varying amounts in my life is due to an "addiction" of sorts to carbohydrates. Usually craving for jelly beans, gummy bears or tortilla chips is how it manifests. While many people have taken partisan positions on low-carb diets, I would argue that there is not a "one-size fits-all" diet that should be pushed, but I will say that many of the people in my life are carbohydrate abusers, as I am also wont to be. If I were to push for an answer to this problem, I would point most people to look into what is known as the "Paleo Diet/Lifestyle." 

The topic of a not-so-far-into-the-future-blog-post will be concerned with the age old question that pits the physiology of machines in human form versus a dynamic qualitative requirement and is distilled into a simplified form of caloric intake of any form is the only rule that governs the dynamic system that is the human body and one where more than a simplified "energy in/energy out" rule abides. Of course, the most immediate solution for most people I know, including me, is eating less and moving more. Everything else is just academic and suited to variance for each person's needs and requirements.

All that aside, I love a crispy sweet potato, either in french fry form or grilled. I was hoping to try a different way to grill the potatoes, in that I was hoping that boiling the potato and slicing into, but not all the way through, but I encountered some difficulty with the logistics. More on this later.  

As I've mentioned before, I am enamored with basil, and I am really enjoying the garden's basil bounty thus far. Along with the olive oil that I've drizzled over the sweet potatoes, I've concocted a lime juice. basil concoction. It is really simple, and here are it's constituents:
  • 0.25 cup olive oil
  • ~teaspoon salt (I didn't measure, just used the shaker to cover all the potato)
  • ~teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 lime (squeezed)
  • .25 cup Asian basil 
  • 0.25 Spicy basil (this basil is truly and surprisingly spicy! It's leaves our a fraction of the size of a classic Mediterranean version, but if you ever come across some, I highly recommend it.)

I must admit, that I fought (and it was truly a battle) against including garlic with the sweet potatoes. One of the things I've become more aware of is how easily I add too much garlic. As a true American, I fall into the trap of thinking, if some is good, a shit-ton must be better! This time, I made the right decision, as I think the garlic would work with a standard, white potato, it is not the best option for the sweet potato, especially in light of all the other powerful flavors that are involved with this meal. 

These were large sweet potatoes, and as such, I grossly overestimated how long to boil them. I had them in boiling water for 35 minutes, which left them nearly completely cooked. This meant that the ends were mushy, and the skin came off when I tried to slice them. I was able to keep one potato in the form I described above, but because of the mushiness, I feared fanning the potato as planned, and was left with a sub-par product. The other potato fell apart during slicing, which meant that slices  -- plain, ordinary, boring slices would have to do. 

The grilling and the final dish was, if nothing else, a good looking affair.

Round Tip Steak has it's place, and utilized properly is a satisfying cut of beef. Perhaps my aim was too high (it definitely was) in trying to turn this cut of meat into a steak dinner, well, more importantly a stand alone steak dinner. The good thing is that we have much leftover steak, and it will see a good life in a steak and eggs breakfast tomorrow and then a steak burrito for dinner tomorrow. This is all well and good, but a leftover top sirloin would also serve this purpose, with a better first showing. With a cut this thin, grilling was a dangerous proposition in the first place -- and I was well aware of this -- but even what I tried to keep to just a "searing" on the grill left me with a grey, well done piece of meat. That said, it was surprisingly tender, which I attribute to the acid trip it took earlier today. 

The okra was also mediocre, in that my marinade was hardly detectable after grilling. I'm not sure I would do this exactly the same in the future. I would enjoy exploring options for infusing more flavor into the seed pod during or before cooking. I also might like a sauce to drizzle over them when done. By themselves, they weren't good enough for our liking.

The delectable orange tubers, despite being boiled for too long, were tasty and crunchy -- which is just what I was going for. The brightness that the lime brought to the sweetness of the potato was excellent and the spicy basil (which really, I can't recommend enough) with some salt and pepper was something that I'm looking forward to and will be combining these elements again. 

This is what my wife had to say about the dinner: "um, yeah, the steak was a little lemony, but, yeah, it was good."

Not exactly a glowing endorsement. Not that I'm arguing with her, though.  

Overall rating:  C+

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