28 May 2008

Feijoada Chiles

Sorry about the quality of this photo- I couldn't find my camera so had to use my cell phone.

I love sausage. I love beans. Put them together and stuff them in a chile, really what more could you want in a dinner. The feijoada in the title refers to the style of the cooked black beans. I have no pretensions that this really resembles the Brazilian national dish, but since I've never had it I can pretend.

This dish comes together really quickly. The only thing that takes a little bit of time is roasting the chiles. I do them 2 at a time, directly on the gas burners of the stove, but you could also use the broiler. After they're blackened, pop them in a paper bag for a few minutes and let them steam a bit- that will make it easier to peel the skin off. Cut them open, remove the seeds and spoon in the beans and bake for 15 minutes. Top with a bit of cheese (it actually doesn't add that much flavor but it does make the dish more visually appealing) and it's ready to go. Serve it with some rice or tortillas and you've got a complete meal.

Recipe after the jump.

Feijoada Chiles
Adapted from Cuisine at Home
Serves 4 for dinner, 8 as a first course

4-8 chiles (hungarian wax, poblano but not bell), roasted with skins removed
6 oz. turkey kielbasa, cubed
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion diced
1 t. oregano leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1, 28oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 C. water
pinch of chicken bouillon
hot sauce, to taste
1/2 C. goat or feta cheese (optional)

- Saute kielbasa over medium high heat in a non-stick skillet to brown. Set aside.

- Add olive oil and onion, saute till softened. Add in garlic and spices, cook for about a minute or until you can smell the garlic. Add beans, broth and bouillon and simmer for 10 minutes until there is little liquid left.

- Use a potato masher or spoon and mash the beans (in the pan) to your desired consistency.

- Stuff each chile with the bean mixture and bake for 15 minutes. Top with cheese and serve

Note: The leftover beans are absolutely delicious on their own or in a tortilla.

Matcha Raspberry Opera Cake

Another month and another Daring Bakers Challenge. This month it was Opera Cake, selected by the founders of DB, Lis and Ivonne of La Mia Cucina and Cream Puffs in Venice respectively and Fran and Shea, two newer members of the group. I knew vaguely what Opera cake was when I read the recipe but I wasn't (and still am not) sure that I've ever had it. The twist to this month's challenge was that we couldn't use any of the traditional opera cake flavors. I will admit, I was the tiniest bit annoyed, since chocolate and mocha are two of my favorite dessert flavors but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is exactly why I signed up to DB in the first place- to force me to try new things and become a better baker.

The flavors for the cake had to be light, and since Opera cake is traditionally composed of several layers (cake, buttercream, ganache and glaze) I needed to come up with more than one 'light' flavor. Having already done lemon and berry for my first DB challenge I was stumped- until I remembered how much I liked green tea flavored sweets on my visit to Japan a few years ago. I wanted a slightly tart flavor to contrast with the green tea and had initially decided on apricot, which I thought would provide the tartness I was looking for while not being too dark in color.

Unfortunately, the grocery store did not want to cooperate on either account. No fresh or frozen apricots in sight and after spending a good 5 minutes staring at the tea section (black, red, oolong, decaf, berry, zen, weight loss, weight gain and green but all of the leaf in bag variety) I found a small box of individual packets of sweetened green tea, meant to be used in ice tea. At that point I couldn't even think of trying to figure out a new flavor combo while in the store so I tossed the tea into the cart and bought a bag of frozen raspberry while channeling Tim Gun and his "Make it work" mantra.

I got home and set to work on the cake itself. The joconde (sponge cake layer) was a first in many ways for me- the first cake I've made that based on nut flour, the first leavened only with egg whites and the first cake recipe that had absolutely no salt in it. I had hoped that with the addition of two green tea packets the joconde would turn out green and tea flavored but sadly it did not. That led me to attempt to flavor the buttercream with green tea. That worked out a bit better and the buttercream ended up a very pale green with a distinct green tea flavor. I decided to skip the ganache (since I really don't like white chocolate) and just make a glaze for the top out of pureed, strained raspberries and confectioners sugar. For some reason, I really thought that it would turn out a pale pink, not the dark red like it did (so I apologize for breaking the rule and having a dark color in my cake).

I brought the cake over to a friend's and cut it into little slices. The green tea flavor seemed to take people by surprise but went over well. The almond meal in the cake gave the finished Opera a slightly rough texture (I'm not sure if store bought almond meal would, but since I made mine in the blender it ended up a rather coarse texture) and the raspberry glaze was fresh, tart and delicious and (for me at least) prevent the cake from being overly sweet. Will I try to make Opera cake again? Yes, but probably with the traditional flavors next time. If you'd like to try your hand at Opera Cake, you can find the recipe at any of the blogs listed above.

25 May 2008

Cucumber Vinegar Salad

Along with the meatballs we needed to have some kind of vegetable. (I'm always torn as to whether tomato sauce counts as a vegetable. I know it's tomatoes but it just doesn't seem very vegetabally to me-- thoughts?). Well, I thought we needed to have something along with the meatballs and it needed to be something quick (I can't actually really remember why at this point- not to self, don't wait 5 days before writing up posts). I grabbed half a cucumber that had been sitting in the fridge and quickly sliced it up, then mixed together about 1/3 C red wine vinegar and 2 t. of sugar and poured it over top, sprinkled on a little salt and let it sit for about 10 minutes. It is maybe the easiest salad imaginable and the vinegar and sugar give the cucumber a bit of bite and texture without masking the clean cuke flavor. You can make it with red wine, white wine or plain vinegar and if you have time, let it sit for 30 minutes or more for the best flavor.

23 May 2008

Greek Meatballs

Last weekend I was trying to decide what we should have for dinner during the week and was really not coming up with anything. I actually just wrote on the shopping list, "fruit, veggies, food." But even I know that is a little ridiculous (even though Zach helpfully pointed it out) so I dragged out some old issues of Cuisine at Home looking for inspiration. I found a recipe for Greek Meatballs that looked good. We went to the grocery store and I forgot to buy quite a few things that the recipe called for but, as usual, didn't realize it until I got home to start cooking.

A quick phone call to Zach meant that feta cheese was again on the menu, but I ended up sprinkling it on top of the finished product instead of mixing it in to the meatballs. I didn't have parsley either, so I chopped up some celery leaves to use instead (I feel like tv chef's always tell you to use the celery leaves for something- I think this is the first time I ever have) and added a cup of the cooked lemon rice that we were having on the side in place of bread crumbs. The final result was a rather tasty meatball but the sauce really pulled the dish together. It consisted of just a can of whole tomatoes that I roughly chopped with some garlic and kalamata olives and cooked on the stove for about 20 minutes. The olives gave the sauce a piquant taste that really added to the meatballs.

Greek Meatballs
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Cuisine at Home

1 C cooked rice
1/4 c milk
1/4 c chopped parsley or celery greens
2 T scallion, minced
1 t salt
2 t dried oregano (Greek oregano if you have it)
1 egg
1 lb. ground beef (I used 93% lean) or ground turkey
2 t olive oil
3/4 c kalmata olives, pitted and halved
1 T garlic
squirt of hot sauce
1, 28oz. can chopped tomatoes with their juice (or whole tomatoes, chopped)
Feta cheese, for topping

- Mix first 8 ingredients together. If you have time, let the mixture sit for 30 minutes or so.

- Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. Form meatballs a bit larger than golf ball size (should make 15) and add them to the pan. Brown on both sides and remove from pan.

- Remove all but 1 T. oil from the pan. Add the garlic and olives and saute for about a minute. Add the hot sauce and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.

- Add the meatballs back to the pan and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until meatballs are cooked through. Serve immediately over rice or pasta.

20 May 2008

Golden Baked Tofu

If you have avoided tofu because of the 'it tastes like a jiggly blog of nothing' syndrome this is the dish to change your mind. A few months ago K* and I made baked tofu. Neither of us had had it before and we both were a bit surprised at how well it turned (although we cooked it a bit too long and 'blackened tofu' would have been a more apt description). Baking the tofu allows it to brown and get a little crispy on the edges and an Asian style marinade and dipping sauce impart a ton of flavor on an otherwise blank slate.

Last time, the tofu had really good base flavor but seemed to be missing a bit of sweetness to balance out the salty soy sauce and had a bit too much sesame oil for my taste. This time I looked at a few recipes online and adjusted the proportions to reduce the amount of sesame oil and added some honey for balance. The dish comes together in about 10 minutes, though if you have time, allowing the tofu to marinate would really enhance the flavor. The tofu turns out that beautiful golden color (like at Chinese restaurants where its deep fried) but with minimal fat. You can serve it hot, at room temperature or cold, on its own or in a salad or stir fry.

Golden Baked Tofu
Serves 4 as a substantial appetizer

1 block firm of extra firm tofu, cut down the center long ways and then into block about 1/3 in. wide
2 t. sesame oil
1 T. plus 1 t. olive oil
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. marsala (or rice wine)
2 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 T. plus 1 t. honey
2 clove garlic, mined
1/2 t. powdered ginger (or 1/2t. fresh grated)

- Put a layer of paper towels down on a plate or pan, set the tofu on top of it a single layer, top with another layer of paper towels and set another plate or pan on top along with a tin can or two. This draws some moisture out of the tofu so it can absorb the marinade. Let sit for 20 minutes.

- Mix remaining ingredients together ingredients for the marinade.

- Put the tofu in a baking pan with sides and pour about two thirds of the marinade on top making sure each piece is covered. [even if you only have 10 minutes, your tofu will befit from a little rest in the drink- you could even do this in the morning before work and bake in the evening]

- Heat oven to 425F and bake tofu for 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven and flip the tofu over. If it seems very dry, add a bit more marinade. Increase oven temp to 450 and bake tofu for another 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

- Serve tofu immediately or at room temperature or save for use in recipes. If serving the tofu on it's own, use the remaining marinade as a dipping sauce.

18 May 2008

Warm Pasta Salad with Spinach, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions

Kat over at A Good Appetite has inspired me again. Last week she made a warm pasta salad recipe out of Bon Appetite magazine that looked so good and so easy I decided to make it right away. I made a few changes to the recipe, to reduce the amount since the original served 6 and I substituted some dried herbs de Provence for the fresh herbs. I also used whole wheat pasta instead of white since that is what I always have in the cupboard. The original recipe also called for chicken but since we didn't have any in the fridge, I used some leftover soy protein but you could you any leftover meat or even smoked tofu instead. The sweetness of the caramelized onions balanced the tang of the goat cheese and the white wine tomato sauce was light yet balanced the other flavors perfectly. That, plus the fact that there is more than a serving of veggies in every portion mean that it will be making a reappearance soon.

At Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen 's suggestion, I am submitting this recipe for this months No Croutons Required vegetarian blogging events with the theme 'salads with cheese' hosted by Holler at Tinned Tomatoes. (Recipe after the jump.)

Warm Pasta Salad with Spinach, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions
Serves 4, Adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine

6 oz. whole wheat pasta (any short shape will do)
1 T. olive oil
1 red onion, cut in half then sliced into thin half moons
1 t. sugar
1 t. white wine vinegar
4 oz. soy protein, or whatever protein you happen to have around (or leave it out completely)
1 C white wine
a pinch of chicken or vegetable bouillon
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1 t. herbs de provence
1 bag baby spinach leaves
2 oz. goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

- Boil a large pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions.

- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add onions with a pinch of salt and cook until beginning to brown. Add sugar and vinegar, stir and continue to cook till onions are browned. Set aside.

- In the same skillet brown the soy protein, if using. Set aside.

- In the same skillet, over high heat, reduce the wine by half. Add in the bouillon, tomato and herbs and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the cooked and drained pasta, onions and soy protein. Stir and cook for another minute or two. The sauce will be very thin.

- Divide the spinach among 4 plates (or two plates and two tupperwares) and top with the warm pasta. Crumble the goat cheese on top of each plate and add a bit of fresh pepper, if you'd like.

Note: This dish saves pretty well but the pasta will get a little soft if you have it for lunch the next day.

17 May 2008

San Francisco

Well it has been a while.  Taking the red eye back to DC on Monday night left me exhausted for the rest of the week and since I didn't have classes I took a bit of a mental vacation as well but now I am back and ready to talk about our trip.  I was a bit skeptical that it would be worth flying across the country for just three days but we managed to do (and eat) so much that I really think it was.  Granted, being in full on zombie mode Tuesday at work was an unfortunate consequense but oh well.  

So- San Francisco.  I think it's about as different a city as DC as possible.  The hills, the victorian architecture, the independent spirit of the shops and restaurants and just the general aura of the San Franciscans give the city a mellow vibe but there is so much going on I wouldn't call it laid back.  We got in very late Friday night and spent the night at a friend's house in Pacific Heights (it's really too bad this isn't an architecture blog and I can't go on and on about the 15 foot ceilings and moulding, but I wish I could).  The next morning we began the great trek looking for a place for breakfast.  We ended up at a crepe shop in Nob Hill where I got the breakfast crepe-- an omelette with ham, peppers and cheese folded into a crepe, with a salad and home fries.  The crepe was delicious and when I went to grab my camera to take a picture I realized that I had forgotten it so no pictures of the first day.

We continued our trek up Russian Hill, down to North Beach and then back up to Pac Heights to grab out bags.  We got on a Muni bus to get to our hotel in Union Square (which reminded me of Times Square with the throngs of tourists but had much less neon advertising) and headed down to the Embarcadero.  We met up with our friend E-, who is from the Bay Area and happened to be in town and walked down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions (I could watch them for hours, they are so funny as they lug themselves out of the water onto the docks and then proceed to the throw themselves down to lay in the sun) then headed back to North Beach for a cappuccino refuel stop and had dinner in an Italian restaurant there, but sadly it wasn't anything special.

On Sunday we walked around the Haight and saw where Janis Joplin lived (but the pictures are other houses in the area) and peeked into the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park.  I would have like to go in to see the place where fortune cookies may have been invented, but the $4 entrance fee seemed a bit high (and didn't include any tea).  So we headed to the Mission and saw some amazing urban public art and had lunch at El Farolito.  Zach got a massive burrito that he said rivaled Chipotle in quality and I had tostadas.  For dinner that night we had Thai at Osha, good but not spectacular though they did to a great job plating.

Monday was the big food day.  I had seen a pastry shop the night before so we went there for breakfast.  It had been so long since I've had a pain au chocolate- I forgot how good chocolate is for breakfast.  For lunch it was bento boxes at the Japanese deli in the Ferry Building.  They were as good as any I had in Japan.  Mine had a crispy shrimp cake, chicken meatball in a sweet glaze, a potato, lettuce and edamame salad (I would never have though about combining those items with a wasabi mayonaise but it was delicious) and a purple rice salad.  Walking around Berkley that afternoon I got a crepe avec Nutella from the same shop that I stopped in when we did spring break in California my senior year of college.  

Our last meal in San Francisco was at the
E&O Trading Company, which our friend described as serving 'food from the former British colonial areas in South East Asia'.  It's sort of a strange description but it fit.  We had naan stuffed with paneer served with sweet tamarind and tart tomato sauces, a light and crispy corn fritter with a soy dipping sauce, minced chicken lettuce wraps (definitely something to try at home) and eggplant, hakka style (eggplant is one of those items I always love out yet can never seen to make for myself).  Dessert was so good I didn't even manage to get a picture of it- 

But then dinner was done and it was time to head to the car and the airport and home to real life.  I've made a little slide show to remind myself of our visit- you can take a look if you'd like to see some of the food that I've talked about. If you click on a picture it will take you to a larger view with captions.

09 May 2008

Done at Last!

I have finally, finally finished my semester. After some technical problems, my last paper is turned in and Zach and I are about to leave DC for the weekend for some much needed R&R. I think this ice cream cake is a fitting post to celebrate the end of the semester with (I actually really wish I had a piece with me at work).

So- ice cream cake-- it's definitely not something to leave to the professionals (and I use that term very loosely) at DQ as it's so easy to make at home. Plus- instead of only getting vanilla and chocolate ice cream with the chocolate crunchies in the middle, you can have whatever flavors you like. Feeling tropical- use mango and pineapple sorbet with a coconut filling (and using sorbet dramatically lowers the fat content). If you want to splurge, pick your two favorite flavors of Haagen-Dazs and use brownie bits for the filling. The combinations are only limited by what you can think up.

I made a vanilla and strawberry ice cream cake with coconut-graham cracker filling. The flavor choices were Zach's (but he knows that strawberry is my favorite). Last time we used chocolate teddy grahams for the filling (whacking them to bits with a rolling pin was a little traumatic as they are so cute) but the grocery store was out so I used the leftover graham crackers from my last Daring Bakers Challenge instead The recipe below makes enough to serve about 20, but you can easily adjust the proportions to fit the number of guests you have, or even just make an individual ice cream cake for yourself in a custard cup or ramekin (why save all the fun for when you have guests over?). The cake comes together really quickly, but don't forget that you have to let each layer freeze individually so it's easiest to put in the first layer the night before you need the cake, and add the filling and second layer the next morning. Then your cake will be frozen and ready to go that night.

Ice Cream Cake
Serves 20, recipe can easily be halved

1/2 gallon each of your two favorite ice cream flavors (or sorbet, frozen yogurt, ect.)
2 c. crushed graham crackers or your other favorite cookie
1 T. melted butter
2 T. brown sugar (only if using graham crackers, omit if using a sweeter cookie)
1/2 C. sweetened, shredded coconut

Other items: 10x13 baking dish, parchment paper, tin foil and saran wrap

- Take the lid and plastic off the ice cream container that you want on the bottom layer. Soften the ice cream in the microwave on 50% power until soft but not melting.

- Scoop the ice cream into the dish and place a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the dish over the top. Use your hands to press down on the parchment paper and create a relatively even layer of ice cream.

- Leave the parchment paper on top of the ice cream, as this will help prevent freezer burn. Wrap the dish well with saran wrap and freeze overnight or until very firm.

- Mix the crushed cookies, melted butter, sugar and coconut in a bowl. Soften the second ice cream flavor in the microwave. Take the base of the cake out of the freezer, remove the plastic wrap and parchment paper and sprinkle the cookie mixture on in an even layer.

- Scoop the ice cream out on top of the cookie layer and use the parchment paper to press it out into an event layer. Leave the parchment on and wrap the dish well in plastic wrap. Freeze until very firm and serve.

Note: Make sure you wrap the cake very well in the freezer as ice cream will pick up other flavors and smells very easily, which reminds me of an incident when I was studying in Vienna involving meatballs and my vegetarian roommates vanilla ice cream...

03 May 2008


I am trying to think back on the first time that I had burek. I think it must have been when Zach and I visited Sarajevo. He was studying in Budapest and I was in Vienna and we decided to take a weekend trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I remember the overnight train from Budapest where we were lucky enough to get a compartment with two long benches that we could sleep on, the knocks in the night and shouts of 'Passport Kontrol' from the border guards and our arrival at the Sarajevo train station. It was a cold January morning, very early and the platform was shrouded in fog. An old fashioned locamotive engine was on the track opposite our and the conductor, wearing a slouched blue cap, was sitting perfectly still with his arm resting on the window ledge of the cab. Old women, wearing skirts and practical black skirts had kerchiefs tied around their heads. It seems funny that I should remember our arrival so clearly when the rest of the trip now seems a blur of cafes and very cold walks interspersed with stops to see the Sarajevo Roses in the pavement, scars in a beautiful city of a brutal war.

The point of this is that I know I must have had borek on this trip but I can't picture the time of the place. Sarajevo must have been the place where I tried the pastry pie filled with spinach, feta and fresh herbs. I associate it with our trip to the city even now. Even through burek can be filled spiced meat or just with cheese, my favorite is with cheese and spinach, similar to Greek spanakopita that many American's are familiar with. A few years ago Zach and I decided to try to make burek at the annual Christmas feast at Zach's dad's house. Though you could make it on your own, we always seem to do it together and have developed a little system where I pull a sheet of phyllo, and brush it with butter, Zach drops of the filling while I cut the dough in strips and then we both roll, starting at opposite ends. We made it last week for Zach's birthday and everyone loved it (after all, what's not to like about tiny savory pastries).

Makes about 40-50 bureks that are about 2 inches long

Several sheets of phyllo dough (I use the frozen kind- one package of sheets is more than enough)
1, 10oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and thoroughly drained
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. feta cheese
3 T. chopped fresh parseley
2 T. chopped fresh dill
1 egg
a few grates of fresh nutmeg
a few grinds of pepper
2-4 oz. melted butter, for rolling

- Preheat oven to 375F.

- Mix the cream cheese, feta, spinach, herbs, egg and spices.

- Carefully lift off a sheet of the phyllo dough (I always seem to tear the first sheet to bits- don’t worry if you do, just toss it and try again with the next one.) and brush it lightly with the butter using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon. You’re looking to very lightly cover about 80% of the phyllo surface with butter.

- Spoon about 1 t. of filling at even intervals down the long side of the phyllo dough. Leave about an inch between each mound of filling. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough across so each mound of filling now has its own strip of phyllo

- Roll up the phyllo, starting at the filling end and transfer to a baking sheet. It doesn't need to be particularly tight or neat, just rolled up into a little tube. Keep repeating these two steps until you’ve used all of the filling.

- Bake the burek for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately. Uncooked rolls freeze very well and area great treat to have in the freezer. Just put then on a plate in the freezer until firm and then transfer them to a freezer bag

02 May 2008


Last Friday it was about 80 degrees here in Washington.  I had planned to take the afternoon off work to start cooking for Zach's birthday party (15 people coming over for dinner) so I drove into work so I could get home quickly (I really do feel guilty admitting that- I do take metro 99% of the time- really).  I was headed home at around 2, slightly hungry after having a PB&J on a hot dog bun for lunch when I was suddenly struck by the idea that some sushi would be delicious and, as I drove down the hill on Lee Highway, Wasabi came into view. 

I have been to Wasabi downtown, home of a revolving belt sushi and $2 bottles at happy hour, but I had never been to the Wasabi (formerly called Wasabisito) in Virginia. It's a tiny little shop/restaurant with about 6 table and a large refridgerated case for take out where they have sushi rolls, bento boxes, seaweed salad, and little desserts all ready to go, or at least i'm sure they usually do but since I got there after 2, nearly everything was gone. I asked at the counter for a California roll and the (hmmm, I'm not sure that I would call her a chef, but I'm not sure what other word to use) put the roll together with rice, nori, immitation crab meat (that had been tempura fried- an interesting touch) and avocado and proceeded to put my roll on a very strange machine. 

The machine sat on the counter and was shaped like a mini upright piano, with a high back and small flat space, where a piano keyboard would be.  She set my still flat roll down on a small platform and pushed a button and all of a sudden the roll sprang into the air on the platform and two metal bars appeared on each side and shaped the contents into a square log. I had never in my life seen anything like it and my astonishment was rather clear to everyone in the shop. It's a rather cool device, but it seems o me that it takes away something from the sushi, a food that is about balance and having a delicate touch with ingredients, to have it slammed together like that.

Well, no matter how it was made, it was pretty tasty.  It ended up rolled in a very thick sheet of plastic, sort of like a transparency slide, for transportation home so assumed the traditional round shape and it was just was I was looking for for a snack on a very hot afternoon.

Multiple locations in the DC area.

01 May 2008

Birthday Steak Out

I have a few posts waiting to go but I think I need to start at the beginning, last Thursday, Zach's birthday. Everything will make so much more sense if I go from there. So, last Thursday, Zach's birthday. I wanted to make him steak for dinner as it's one of his favorite things and he doesn't have the chance to have it very often. I had everything planned out- a lovely fillet in the fridge, a sack of potatoes for mashing and I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up some fresh asparagus and blue cheese (since another of Zach's favorite things is blue cheese butter on steak). When I got home, I set about to mashing the blue cheese and butter together (equal parts of each) so it would have time to rest, prepped the asparagus and cut the potatoes and then it hit me- I had never in my life cooked a steak and had no idea how to do it.

I had some vague idea that I would use my grill pan but then when I actually thought about it I realized that slapping a 2 inch thick piece of meat on the grill would probably result in A) overcooked meat or B) a raw steak with slightly charred crust. Since neither of those options was exactly what I was looking for I turned to the cookbook library (in reality I was a little frantic at this point) and Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food. I was still intent on using the grill pan, but then I happened to flip to the searing section of the book and read Alton Brown's description of a butterflied and seared steak with blue cheese butter smeared on the center- bingo, we have a winner.

I very carefully cut the fillet nearly in half to open it up (like a book) and rubbed on a tiny bit of vegetable oil, then sprinkled it with salt and pepper. While the steak rested (it had been out of the fridge for about 20 minutes at this point) I got out the cast iron skillet, poured in just enough oil to coat the bottom and turned it on to high. I waited for the oil to shimmer and then I dropped in the steak (and should have used my spatula to press it down to ensure good pan contact and good browning) and let it cook for about a minute then flipped it over (again should have used the spatula to ensure good pan contact) and cook the second side for about a minute and a half. The steak had a little rest under a foil tent while I tried to arrange the asparagus and potatoes artfully on the plate (by the photo you can see how well that one went) and spread the blue cheese butter on the center and closed the steak up again.

It was definitely not the prettiest dinner ever but Zach really liked it. The meat was seared on the outside but still medium rare on the inside. I wasn't planning on having any at all, since it was Zach's birthday treat (and I'm really not much of a steak person) but it looked so good I had to ask for a bite (one without much blue cheese as I don't really like it). It tender and and the slightly crisp seared bits added another layer of flavor and texture. I can even see how the earthiness of the blue cheese (I was trying to think of a nicer way to say 'gym socky taste') can enhance the flavor of the meat. Next time I will definitely try to get a better sear though as it would really add to the flavor.