Sunday, February 24, 2008

Better-than-the-Steakhouse Dinner

Since I've moved out into the boondocks, supermarkets are not close by. It is one of the few drawbacks of living in the country. However, the billions of stars above the fire on crisp clear nights, the fawns playing next to the pond while mom grazes nearby, and the rolling hills of corn and pastures dotted with horses greeting you on your way home makes it more than worth it.

I used to visit the supermarket at 7 am on Sundays, since it was 5 minutes from my apartment and I could avoid the crowds that clog up the aisles later in the day. But now, I'm just not willing to drag myself out of bed at 6 on a weekend so that I can jump in a frigid car and head out to shop. I commute 45 minutes to work anyways, so I usually do my shopping on my way home, at the incredibly impressive Wegman's in Hunt Valley.

This Saturday morning, my kitten - who's just gone into heat for the first time (imagine the fun) - woke me up howling and jumping around the bedroom. I had missed my normal Friday shopping (it was a snow day, and nothing can persuade me to leave my house on a weekday if I don't have to), so I decided I may as well make my pilgrimage, since I was up way too early anyway - and with no ingredients to do some early morning baking.

I had forgotten how serenely meditative grocery shopping could be in the early morning hours. I could take my time, handpicking the best fruit, lingering over possibilities for the next week's meals, and debating whether I would actually use those exotic ingredients that I came across. The store was just waking up, employees trickling in to replenish the shelves, artfully arrange the produce, set out the lamb racks and rib roasts, dissect a stunningly silver 4 foot rockfish into handsome filets. Sure, there are some drawbacks to shopping so early - no sushi, cooking demos with tasty samples, or rotisserie chickens fresh from the oven. But the Zen-like experience, along with first pick of the day's best, makes it even better. I also got first dibs on the day's biggest markdowns on meat, which really helps the wallet, since Wegman's doesn't DO sales on meat. I snatched up two beautiful porterhouses marked down from $30 to $11, just because their sell by date was the next day.

These made the most sublime dinner, grilled simply with a spice rub, and served with our favorite roasted brussel sprouts. This meal would have easily cost $40 a person if we ordered it at a nice steakhouse, and at thirteen bucks a head, it can't be beat.

Spice Rub
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp Old Bay
1/4 tsp oregano

Mix to combine. Rub onto gloriously thick steaks and let sit in refrigerator for at least one hour.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

I serve these to anyone who tells me they don't like brussel sprouts. I have not had one complaint yet. From my own childhood, I remember being plagued by boiled, insipidly bitter little cabbages with no redeeming qualities. One day, inspired by a loving ode to the spouts that I came across in one of my magazines, I bravely gave them another chance. Halving and roasting these little gems results in crispy shelled, only ever so slightly bitter bites of flavor. Any remaining bitterness is balanced with sweet balsamic and salty sharp grated italian cheeses. (Note: these may look burnt, but let me assure you - you will not taste any charred flavor)

3 1/2 cups cleaned, trimmed brussel sprouts, halved
olive oil

1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar - use the best you can afford
1/8 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/8 cup grated pecorino romano

Toss halved brussel sprouts with plenty of olive oil to coat. Spread out on a jelly roll pan with enough space between them for even cooking. Roast at 400 degrees until caramelized and outer leaves blacken and crisp. Toss with vinegar and cheeses and serve while still steaming.

For porterhouses: Preheat grill until it's glowing hot (yes - you can and will do this in the snow - it's worth it!). Sear porterhouses over high heat, a couple of minutes per side for medium rare, until a carmelized crust has formed but the meat is still gorgeously red on the interior.

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