Well Dined


Anniversary Dinner

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our 2nd Wedding Anniversary!  We went on a lovely trip to Texas over the weekend, but our actual anniversary fell on a Tuesday.  We had plans to eat at some very nice restaurants on our trip, so we decided to stay in on our anniversary and have a nice home-cooked meal.  I made steak with compound butter, spinach and Gruyere souffle, and vanilla bean panna cotta with mixed berries.

For the steak, I wanted to try out a method (explained really well here) to make cheaper cuts of steak (I used the excellent and underutilized flat iron) tender and more flavorful.  Basically, you coat the steak in salt and flavorings (garlic, rosemary) and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.  The salt will permeate the meat, bringing the flavorings with it and tenderizing.  Then you rinse off the steaks, pat dry, and cook as you normally would.

To add even more flavor, I topped off the steak with a lemon, garlic, and parsley butter.

I was feeling fancy and adventurous, so I thought I would try my hand at souffle - which actually didn't turn out to be that difficult (though it did deflate seconds after I took this picture).

The basic technique is to make a roux with butter and flour, add in milk to make a bechamel-like sauce, and add the cheese to melt.  Next, add in the flavoring - in my case, spinach - and egg yolks.  Then gently fold in whipped egg whites, and bake.

My souffle turned out fluffy and decadent and with lovely spinach and Gruyere flavor.  It served as both a vegetable and a starch.

Lastly, for dessert I made a vanilla bean panna cotta with berry compote.  I took a recipe for 8 servings, cut it in half, and put 2 servings each in large glasses (hey - we were splurging, okay?).

Panna cotta is a smooth, light, and silky custard made with cream, sugar, vanilla, and gelatin.  It takes a few minutes to mix, but hours to set up - so give yourself time.  The berry compote was made by macerating strawberries and raspberries (if I was making more servings, I would have used blackberries and blueberries, too) with dessert wine for an hour or so.

Seared Steak with Compound Butter

This is more of a guideline than a recipe, be sure to check out Steamy Kitchen for even more pointers (and adorable diagrams!).

Buy a good quality, cheaper cut of meat such as Flat Iron, Hanger, Top Round, or Top Sirloin.  Sprinkle liberally (1/2-1 tsp) with KOSHER salt (not table) on both sides and allow to sit out at room temperature for about an hour for a 1-inch steak.  Thinner steaks take less time, thicker steaks take more time; fattier meat takes less time, leaner meat takes more time.  For extra flavor, add garlic, spices, and herbs during the salting time (I used garlic and rosemary).

When you are ready to cook, rinse the steaks off and pat really dry (I mean it) with paper towels.  Grill or sear as usual.

The BEST method, in my opinion (and Alton Brown's) for cooking steak is as follows:  Put a cast iron skillet in oven and turn the oven on to 500 degrees.

When the oven reaches temperature, remove the pan and place it on the stove top over high heat. Coat the steaks lightly with oil and season with pepper (no need for salt if you followed the salting method above).

Immediately place the steaks in the hot, dry pan. Cook 30 seconds without touching them!  This is important! Turn with tongs and cook another 30 seconds, then put the pan straight into the 500 degree oven for 2 minutes. Flip steak and cook for another 2 minutes for medium rare.

Remove steak from pan, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 2 minutes - always let meat rest before cutting it!

Finally, top with a compound butter for ultimate flavor: Soften (do not melt) your butter, use about a tablespoon per person.  Add in your flavorings.  That's it!

I used lemon zest, garlic, and chopped parsley; other good options are minced shallots and herbs, paprika, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, or blue cheese.

Spinach and Gruyere Souffle
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for baking dish
1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
5 cups (5 oz) packed spinach, trimmed and washed (I used baby)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 large eggs, separated, plus 2 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a round 1-quart tall-sided baking dish and dust with breadcrumbs; set aside. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons water over medium-high. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a strainer to cool; press to release liquid.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium until bubbling. Add flour and whisk until a paste forms. Continue to cook until pale blond in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking, gradually add milk. Cook, whisking, until lumps are gone and mixture is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted; season with salt and pepper. Transfer souffle base to a large bowl.

In a food processor, pulse spinach and egg yolks until coarsely pureed. Add 1/4 cup souffle base; pulse until blended. Stir spinach mixture into remaining souffle base. (To store, press plastic wrap against surface and keep at room temperature, up to 4 hours.)

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 4 egg whites and pinch of salt on medium-high until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat), about 3 minutes. In 2 additions, gently fold egg whites into souffle base. Pour batter into prepared dish and bake until souffle is tall, browned, and firm to the touch, about 35 minutes. (Avoid opening oven during first 25 minutes of baking.) Serve immediately.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mixed-Berry Compote
adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 4 (or 2 really hungry people)

1/8 cup cold water
1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 1/2-pint baskets assorted fresh berries
1/6 cup sweet white wine (such as Moscato)

Pour the cold water into a small custard cup. Sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 15 minutes. Bring 1 inch of water in small skillet to boil. Place cup with gelatin in water. Stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Combine cream and 1/3 cup sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat just until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla and gelatin. Divide pudding mixture among 4 wineglasses. Cover and chill until set, at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.
Combine berries and remaining 1/6 cup sugar in medium bowl. Crush berries slightly with back of spoon. Mix in wine. Let compote stand until berry juices and sugar form syrup, stirring often, at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

Spoon compote over puddings.

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