Preparing dinner can present itself as a challenge with kids bearing opposing tastes, as, you guessed it, what one loves the other tends to hate. Now that the Girl is away at college, (okay, a 45-minute drive from home) her arrival home for the occasional weekend presents itself as a full-blown celebration, which, of course, includes at least one home cooked favorite.
The Boy, cursed with three more years of high school, may curl a lip.
“Steak!” the Girl may inevitably proclaim, when asked what dish she’d like me to pamper her with.
“Steak?” Is the rebuttal coming from the other side of the room. “I don’t like meat,” may come next.
(Please note that “meat” excludes bacon in any format, cheeseburgers, and spaghetti bolognese.)
“With pepper!”, college girl will proceed, now fueled by her little brother’s protest.
“Moooooooom! Too spicy! No mom!” The response immediately bounces back.
I’m the net in the middle of a tennis match between Roger Federer and [insert whomever Roger is beating at the moment.]
“Guys, guys, come on!” I may squeal, though Switzerland is always overheard.
“FISH!” Boy will announce, just to get the mood going. He knows what comes next.
You may not.
So allow me to tell you something:
GIRL HATES FISH.
(Please note that “fish” excludes any type of sushi, especially the super duper expensive sushi rolls with foie gras, black truffles, and Beluga caviar.)
“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiish?????” she squeals, biting the bait. “I haaaaaate fish! MOOOOM!!!!!”
It always comes down to this: Mom.
Both look at me then and there. It’s match point. Who will win?
Really, boy has a little grin, the kind only moms can see in their children. That little grin speaks volumes. It speaks of a brother just messing with his sister, because perhaps, only perhaps (because I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouths) he missed her a teensy bit. Especially this part. The part where he teases and taunts her and pokes her buttons the way he only knows how.
It’s a quick moment of eye exchanges over at this family Wimbledon match. The girl’s look softens. I watch her and still wonder how this girl, whom I remember walking around with a baguette that was practically her size, is now in college flourishing into a young adult.
“It’s okay, Mom, make something everyone wants,” she manages to say, just barely, but does. Her brother, on cue, joins with “I don’t really care. Steak is just fine.”
I make the steak, because, quite frankly, I am the one in charge. I add the peppercorns, rubbing them well into the meat before searing it in a hot cast iron pan. For good measure I’ll throw in a good old-fashion Cognac cream sauce, because that goes deliriously well with a rare ribeye. Everyone eats it, quietly, which is how you know you’ve won the match.
¼ cup cilantro, chopped plus some extra for serving
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 large white onion, sliced crosswise into ¾"-thick rings, plus 1/2 cup roughly chopped, for serving
Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges for serving
1 lbs. skirt steak, cut crosswise into 4 steaks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 jalapeño, stemmed
Warm tortillas, for serving
Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl. Add steak and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping over after 15 minutes. If you are not in a rush, you can allow steak to marinate (turning over a few times) for up to 3 hours.
Heat a grill pan over high heat and grill, 5 minutes on each side (for medium/rare.)
Remove meat from pan, add salt and pepper, and let rest for 5 more minutes.
Meanwhile, place remaining onion and jalapeño on grill, and cook, turning as needed, until charred and softened, about 10 minutes.
Slice steaks into 1” strips and serve with grilled vegetables and warm tortillas.
Add fresh lime juice, chopped onion and cilantro. If you like, you can serve pico de gallo or salsa verde on the side.
The weather dipped the other day in South Florida.
It did, real quick, but, it did.
In fact, if you are a late riser, if you’re not privy to dark, pre-dawn alarms piercing into peaceful slumber so you may assemble prosciutto and tapenade sandwiches for school lunches while simultaneously flipping gruyere and wild porcini omelets for breakfast (because culinary requests are very high in this household) you may have just missed it.
The chipper weather forecaster on the morning news was as ecstatic as when she was crowned Miss Florida years ago. She eagerly urged her viewers to “dress in layers,” which, even I, who am perpetually cold, thought was a bit much. She continued to inform us that the temperature was a chilly 66 degrees and would only climb up to a mild 85. That would explain the goose bumps on her tight-fighting atomic tangerine dress.
Chilly 66. Mild 85.
I’m not big on tattoos, but that is one I’d consider getting.
You know, as a reminder.
We may have a lot of crazy things going for us in South Florida, a lot of nut jobs seem to hatch from the glorious Sunshine State, but Chilly 66, Mild 85 is something I can deal with.
With breakfast for the children already plated, I opened the front door to grab the morning paper, and instead of being greeted by the familiar frizz-your-hair humidity, I got a crisp, cool caress that left me pleasantly chilly. To experience cold is so unusual in South Florida that it made me wonder if I was dreaming.
Or somehow transported to Ithaca.
I realize folks in Ithaca don’t get caressed by the weather. I’ve seen their winters on television. It’s the no-nonsense type of winter. The type that makes national news. The type that most definitely doesn’t breed chipper weather forecasters in candy-colored dresses. You’re more likely to get a weather person akin to a stern officer in the army: Gimme one hundred pushups and grab a shovel to dig yourself out of your house! Now, do it again!
We’re softies here in South Florida when it comes to cold weather. It’s still cute. Celebrated. Fun!
Watch and see.
We have about seven days when things get cold. People will pull out their Ugg boots and designer fleece. Die-hards may sport that winter coat as well. The friendly weather gal will tell us all about it: warn us about frost and frostbite, about wrapping our children thoroughly in scarves and mittens and hats. Keeping body heat starts with a warm head, she’ll say. She’s trained hard for this moment, for this week.
Oh and it is such fun! Who cares if by 11:00am, once that South Florida sunshine is beaming down on us, the thermostat is climbing to 70, then 80, then…you stop looking because you are so damn hot in all your brand new winter gear. You wonder why the svelte weather chick didn’t educate you on how feet regulate your body heat- yours are shvitzing up a storm in those sheepskin boots, the ones you refuse to take off no matter how many beads of sweat are falling down your back or how dizzy and dehydrated you may feel. You now remember (and understand) her sexy, strappy sandals.
It’s South Florida in winter! Glorious! Fun!
It also gives me an excuse to make heartier food: saucy, rich, meat-laden, pasta-slapped, oozing cheese type stuff one needs to survive a cold winter night. I’m thinking specifically of pasticcio, which is like lasagna, only, if you can believe it, better. It’s like some kooky person took a look at lasagna and thought, “yeah, I can improve upon this,” and then did! Crazy right? Impossible? No. They got it down on the pasticcio.
There are several versions of pasticcio, from Greek, to Italian, to Egyptian, but they all rely on four main ingredients: meat, pasta, cheese, and some sort of a béchamel sauce. I favor the Italian version, which my mother used to purchase from our local Italian market on those nights we were rushing around and she’d have no time to cook dinner herself. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, which witnessed a heavy influx of Italian immigrants in the 1940’s, resulting in, amongst other things, a bountiful access to homemade pastas, salume, and Nona-style pasticcio. The principle of layering meat, cheese and noodles is the same, only tucked away for added flavor are slices of ham, and then, just because, the entire thing is coated in a creamy béchamel. Oh, and sprinkled with more cheese. Why not? It’s cold outside, remember? On some survivalist level you need this.
And if you have any leftovers, you can always send them to some shivering, shoveling soul in Ithaca.
Which begs the question, ‘What other weird celebratory days are out there?’
I found this nifty little site that will tell you what you should be celebrating 24/7. It’s called daysoftheyear.com. Simple enough, right? And funny.
I checked what I missed out on yesterday: Constitution Day. It’s a logical choice because yesterday marked the anniversary of the signing of our constitution way back in 1787. I actually felt gypped out on that one, like there should have been more hoopla about it. I know Obama is busy right now, but come on, someone should have scheduled in a little tribute, a flag salute, some type of cake? Something.
Tomorrow is Talk Like A Pirate Day, which, of course, makes me doubt the legitimacy of this site altogether. If my daughter were looking over my shoulder right now, I’d be in big trouble. She’d remind me of the zillions of times I’ve reprimanded her for the tidbits of outrageous statements she regularly spews while navigating the Internet autobahn:
Cosmic rays from outer space often cause glitches in your electronics.
You replace every single particle in your body every seven years, which means that you are literally not the same person you were seven years ago.
If you could drive straight up, you’d be in outer space in one hour.
“I read about it online!” she asserts, feverishly tapping away at her iPhone.
“Check your sources, always check your sources,” I reply in my best Walter Cronkite voice.
I just won’t tell her why I’ll be calling everyone matey tomorrow, or why I may be sporting an eye patch. I’ll redirect things with National Cheeseburger Day. That’s like shinning a gold coin in front of any teenager.
I love learning about National Cheeseburger Day. It’s one allotted day to bypass salads or wraps and go for the kill. It does seem primordial, biting down on a huge, juicy, dripping patty of meat and oozing cheese nestled between two fluffy, grill-toasted buns. There’s some sort of hormone released chomping on that, I’m sure. If you did a brain scan at that precise moment, I guarantee your brain would light up like a Christmas tree, all in a good way. Something associated with cavemen and survival. I’ll have to Google that later. And even if I find the answer on some shady site, say ilovecheeseburgers.com, I’m going to own that truth, if only, at least, for today.
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until transparent, 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Place in a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Combine well. (Take off the rings and dive in there!)
Form patties (this should equal out to 4-6 patties, depending on how hefty you like 'em) and place on a grill or preheated grill pan. Grill over moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, 5 minutes. Flip and add cheese. Grill another 4 minutes, max!
Throw buns (I like brioche buns!) on the grill until warmed through (20 seconds or so) and assemble your burger with all your favorite fixings.
The real reason I slow-cook a spicy, hearty beef brisket in the thick of a scorching, humid South Florida summer and not save it for a more weather-appropriate chilly day is because I’m time-pressed for love.
And we don’t have chilly days in South Florida, anyhow.
Even if you can fry an egg on the pavement outside and the weatherman is begging you to please stay cool, keep yourself hydrated, spend the day in the pool, I pull out my slow-cooker and my fieriest spices.
My husband stopped by for a visit a few days ago. Most spouses live in the same country but mine doesn’t, so, it was a rare treat to share time with him at home without the children.
That investment in summer camp is all the worthwhile when you can spend time together running errands, joking around, gazing dreamily at each other, sharing great wine, and eat amazing food without having to care for anybody else.
Yes, we still gaze dreamily at each other. Go figure.
Three days is not nearly enough time for all the meals I’d love to share with him, but, this one, a spicy, slow-cooked, chipotle, BBQ brisket, came to mind. After all, my husband has a bit of Texas in him, having lived in the Lone Star State for part of his childhood. And once that state gets in you, it’s hard-pressed to come out. I have tripped over many a pair of his misplaced cowboy boots over the years to know this is true.
I’m not even sure if this BBQ hails from Texas, actually. It is brisket, which is favored there, but, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter. Barbeque is code for telling my husband that I love him; his heart melts a bit and his eyes light up when I serve him this dish, even if we are in the middle of another scorching South Florida summer where most culinary folks are suggesting we eat salad and chilled soups. That’s when ice-cold beer comes in handy.
We march to our own drumbeat together, always have. Ours is a long and winding tale of breaking rules for the sake of love. I’ll save those stories for another day and stick to offering up this meal, which is hassle-free and outrageously delicious, leaving plenty of time for eye-gazing and holding hands.