Quick, easy, impressive (with recipes galore)

If it wasn’t already apparent from recipes and mentions on this here blog, as far as mealtime meats go, I’m far more partial to pork and seafood than I am beef or chicken. Just typing that, I already know I’m turning into my mother. She was the same way: pork chops and broiled fish graced our dinner table far more than sirloin steaks or grilled chicken ever did. Sure, we had the occasional grilled steak now and again, but knowing my mother’s palate as I do now, I think she preferred the mildness of the other white meats. Chicken? I think that was just too boring for her.

Recently though, Joe and some of his co-workers went in together on part of a cow. Have you heard of these awesome programs? Actually, the concept and practice of animal/meat sharing has been around for a while (see one this very early VMAC + Cheese post), but I still think it’s great. If you have enough room in a freezer, you, individually, can purchase part or all of a farm-raised animal, thus eliminating the need for a middle man (your grocer), thereby lowering your cost on high quality meat and giving you a freezer full of cuts to use over the course of a year or so. More logical for us big city folk without garages and extra freezers is to share part of an animal with friends (or co-workers). So that’s what we did. We invested in part of a 98% grass fed* steer, and were able to bring home a bunch of ground beef (which I turned into burgers, meatloaf and meatballs), sirloin steaks (steak salads, tacos), stew meat (obvious) and a large tri-tip, which the processor had labeled as London Broil.

[*NOTE: Why 98% grass fed? I believe in the last two weeks of its life, they finished the animal on corn to amp up the marbling. Many, many producers–even small time farms–do this because most Americans are unaccustomed to 100% grass fed beef, and can sometimes be put off by the intense, gamey flavors it produces. I happen to love it, but a few weeks of grain feeding was okay, too.]

The tri-tip was the last thing to go, simply because it was so big and I wasn’t sure what I should make with it. Then I realized, I should just (under)roast the damn thing, and use it throughout the week, however I saw fit. So that’s what I did. I seasoned it heavily, threw it in the oven, and wa-la. The cost of the roast was around $15 or $16, but it provided 4 meals for us: obscenely huge and decadent steak sandwiches with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and melted cheddar on ciabatta; two types of steak salad; and simply sliced with a salad served alongside. Considering the quality of the meat, I couldn’t be happier.

Inspired by the ease and speed with which I was able to put together 4 dinners, I purchased a similar cut of buffalo at the market last week. The key with both of these cuts was to underroast the meat. That’s because when you re-heat it, the meat will cook a bit more, so if you were to prefer your meat medium well (um, why?), and cooked it to medium well, your re-heated meat would be well done or beyond. For the beef, I cooked the meat to just rare, so that subsequent meals would see us eating perfectly done medium rare meat. For the buffalo, I cooked it to just beyond blue, because buffalo tends to be super lean, and overcooking it means you’ll be dining on a rubber chew toy.

One of the buffalo meals I swiftly put together this week included the sliced meat, with a balsamic sauce and steamed veggies (Obviously, we were trying to be a bit more healthful during the week so I could do things like dim sum, cocktails and mac and cheese over the weekend. 2 of these 3 things were part of my Friday night.). The balsamic sauce is one of the quickest, easiest sauces you can make, and people universally love it since the flavor is so familiar, just made more luxurious with the addition of butter. A1 steak sauce? Who needs it?

Completely awful photo of roasted buffalo with balsamic sauce. I had already started eating, realized I should take a picture, then realized my camera was out of battery. I charged the battery for ONE MINUTE, which was just enough to take three very hasty shots of this plate. And yes, I was eating on the living room floor that night. We need to move into an apartment that actually has room for a dining table. The end.
Completely awful photo of roasted buffalo with balsamic sauce. I had already started eating, realized I should take a picture, then realized my camera was out of battery. I charged the battery for ONE MINUTE, which was just enough to take three very hasty shots of this, by which time the sauce had saturated the meat and begun to cool on the plate. And yes, I was eating on the living room floor that night. We need to move into an apartment that actually has room for a dining table. And, I need a new camera. Ooh, foreshadowing!

You know, I meant to write this post just about the balsamic sauce itself, but I think this turned out better. I have three really great recipes for you. They will all serve two very hungry people. After the jump.

Big Mouth Steak Sandwiches

1 small to medium yellow onion
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (optional)
8-10 oz medium-rare tri tip, sliced thinly against the grain
1/2 loaf fresh ciabatta, cut in half lengthwise and some of the interior crumb removed
White cheddar, sliced (I used Murray bridge, a very affordable Australian cheese. Use as much as you’d like–obviously, cheesy is good)
1 roasted red pepper, cleaned, skinned and sliced
1 small brandywine or other heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed arugula
–kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
–optional condiments: can spread mustard, pesto or aioli on the toasted bread

Preheat the broiler in your oven. In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Once shimmering, add in the onions, and season with salt, pepper and the sugar. Allow to cook, moving them around occasionally, until they are beginning to brown (but not burn) on the edges. The sugar should help expedite the process, especially if this is for a quick weeknight meal. If you want to make balsamic caramelized onions, carefully add in the vinegar and allow to reduce until syrupy and coating the onions. Once caramelized, remove from the heat and set aside.

On a sheet pan, lay the ciabatta face up, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Toast under the broiler until the crumb is just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, and if using, spread condiments on the bread. Layer each side of the bread with cheddar cheese, and put back under the broiler until bubbling and gooey. Remove from the oven.

Layer the bottom half of the bread with the sliced tomato and red pepper, then the meat, then the arugula and onions. Top with the other half of the bread, slice into eatable portions, and serve.

Fiesta Steak Salad (Jeff, you’ll love the vinaigrette in this)

few handfuls each of butter lettuce and spinach
1 ear of white or yellow corn, kernels cut from the cob
1 medium red tomato, small diced
1/2 small yellow onion, brunoise
1 jalapeno, seeds and placenta removed, brunoise
leftover bread, cubed (leftover ciabatta works great here!)
cayenne pepper
2 limes, one of them zested, both of them juiced
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup gently packed cilantro
1 clove of garlic
honey to taste
best quality extra virgin olive oil to taste
1 large avocado, seeded, skinned and large diced
8 oz tri tip, roasted/cooked to medium rare and re-heated if necessary, sliced very thinly
1/2 cup grated white cheddar cheese
— olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce and spinach and corn.

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, yellow onion and jalapeno. Season well with salt and pepper, and gently toss. Allow to sit, so that the tomatoes give up their juices and the mixture becomes a quick, simple salsa.

On a large sheet pan, toss the cubed bread with enough olive oil to coat each piece. Sprinkle the bread with salt and pepper, as much cayenne as you’d like, and the zest of one of your limes. Toss together. Bake the croutons for 10 minutes, or until they are crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, combine the lime juice, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic, honey, EVOO and salt and pepper in a blender. Blend until completely smooth, and almost creamy (go Vita Mix!).

Pour as much of the dressing as you want over the lettuce, and toss. Plate the salad on serving plates. Garnish with the avocado, the sliced meat, and cheddar. Top with the salsa, sprinkle a few croutons around the dish, and serve.

Balsamic sauce

In a slope-sided saucepan or saute pan, heat 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar with 1 tsp sugar. Bring to a simmer, and reduce the mixture until only 1/4 remains. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and whisk in 1 to 2 tbsp of cold butter, one tbsp at a time. The sauce should thicken, and easily coat the back of a spoon. Serve over roast beef, roast buffalo, vegetables, chicken, on sandwiches–pretty much anywhere that you need a little balsamic pick-me-up.

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