Friday, December 30, 2011

Date Night... or... The Day I Found Food Network

I  really don't watch television much.  My standard answer to "Did you see the one..." is "Was it on television?  That's why I missed it." 

We have busy lives conducive to listening, not watching, so my media of choice is radio.  It's all the better now we can stream Internet and podcasts on our Sonos (shameless promotion of an excellent experience!).

During my five years as a single mom (in the early "aught" years), we didn't even have cable (gasp!).  We had an old TV (one you have to get up to change the channel) and a set of rabbit ears.  Five stations if the weather was clear and we held our mouths right.

So... at some point in 2005ish, the now-DH and I spent a weekend at (another shameless promotion of an excellent experience) Cooper's Landing Inn and Traveler's Tavern in lovely Clarksville, VA.  Find them on the web, book a room for a luxurious weekend of pampered privacy and unbelievable food.  They now offer weekend cooking class packages.  Tell Les and Nichol we sent you.  They'll remember us and tell funny stories, I promise.

One of the things we found there in our lovely Mid-Summer Night's lodging was a television with cable.  DH flipped the channels.  I found it dull.  Until he found this thing called "Food Network."  This I could watch.  My favorite thing: food.  My other favorite thing: easy.  We watched a single episode by an engaging host preparing a simple, low-cost meal for a small dinner party.  Hey!  We can do that ourselves!  Oh, and they have a website, so I can go home and pull up the recipes from this episode on my personal computer.  It almost made me wish for cable - one of those wishes which comes with the clarifying "and the time to watch it."

The engaging host was Dave Lieberman and the show was Good Deal.  Who wouldn't fall in love with a handsome fellow whose mission is "to teach people how to live, eat, and entertain like royalty, even on a commoner's budget"?

While I never saw another episode on TV, I did become a regular visitor to the network's website.  At the time, it was an easy-to-use interface with a great number of excellent recipes for many, many occasions.  It was a new world for me.  I celebrated by putting together an entire looseleaf binder of recipes.  Still have it and use it whenever I'm looking for inspiration.

In the years since, we've subscribed to cable and I've been in and out of regular work, so I've watched a fair share of Food Network and HGTV and (sigh) got hooked on NCIS.  So much so that I was doing a lot of watching (great for folding laundry time) but not a lot of doing.  Now I'm back to the "who has time for TV?" days and finds Food Network's internet site much less useful (I think it has to do with the auxiliary ads and animated graphics and my aged computer).  Fortunately, I still have the binder.

This particular episode, Rush Hour, is full of fantastic and price-conscious recipes which can literally be on the table with limited fuss and time.  It's perfect for our home "date nights" because each of us has a role in preparation, it's done with little prep, and is on the table inside 30 minutes.  These dishes, together, are a symphony of taste and texture.  Spicy meat, tangy salad, and creamy grits.

Oh, right.  Grits.  Got that north-v-south dictionary ready?

When I turned 18, my parents left home.  Seriously.  Specifically, the week after I graduated from high school, my folks packed up the house and moved south.  'Way south.  South Alabama south.  About as far south as we were north.  The only thing I knew about Alabama was what little we learned about the Civil Rights Movement in history class and that Oh Susannah and her banjo came from there.  Talk about a culture shock.

Well, a shock for everyone in the family but me.  I had a summer job and lodging lined up at home and was headed to University nearby in the fall.  Everyone moved except me.  Their version of this experience (my sister refers to it more as "trauma") is vastly different than mine.  For me, it's largely anecdotal and much easier to find humorous.  My sister was not amused.

My folks' most popular topic of discussion was the interesting gastronomical experiences they were having.  They learned a lot about a lot of things they'd never experienced.  Like catfish camps, hushpuppies, biscuits and gravy, sweet tea (that's another whole post, trust me), fried chicken, (well, fried ANYTHING), and grits.

Grits, to me, were the errant sand flecks which inevitably got into my sandwich at the beach or when the mussels didn't get washed thoroughly.  Oh, and that wonderful line from a '70s sit-com: "Kiss my grits!"  Grits as a voluntary food item was just, well, wierd.  I recall we tried them ONCE at home; no one was impressed.  Mom's take on this ubiquitous breakfast side dish in the South was that it was simply a medium to convey more butter to one's mouth (she has a similar observation about lettuce, salad dressing, and certain men in our family).  I think I tried grits once again on a visit to Alabama.  I opt for the toast or home fries option when I order breakfast.  Keep the grits.

The odd thing is that I love Cream of Wheat.  I prefer it to oatmeal (which I also like very much) for a hot breakfast, with maple syrup or brown sugar rather than butter, salt, and pepper.  In their naked form, Cream of Wheat and grits look very similar.  This dichotomy is not lost on me, but I can't seem to make it funny, so I'll just leave it there.

Here in mid-Atlantic Virginia, near the North Carolina border, grits are generally an option to toast, biscuits, and home fries for breakfast.  Even DH, a southwest Virginia boy, will usually opt for the potatoes.  Occasionally we'll see shrimp and grits on a menu, and my New Jersey-native Alabama-educated friend KK is WELL known for her version of this southern standard.  I'd probably opt for rice instead, although if given the opportunity to have KK's, I'll stick with what she gives me.  She's an EXCELLENT cook and I'm an appreciative guest.

Then I met Dave Lieberman and Food Network.  This show featured not only a tasty preparation of a thrifty cut of meat but also a side dish of cheesy grits.  I recall clearly our reaction to this:  "Oh.  I might actually like grits prepared that way."  Oh, yes, yes we do.  We certainly do.  Cheesy grits are a perfect companion to the spicy steak - smooth and creamy and a little bit sweet to balance the bite of the steak and the acid in the salad.  WOW.

So here are two and a half of the recipes from Rush Hour.  Follow the link below to the first one; there's a link to the episode and all of the recipes on the website.  Enjoy!

Dry Rubbed London Broil
4-6 servings, depending on the size of the steak

1 (2#) London broil
2 T olive oil
1 recipe Dave's Rub (recipe follows)

Rub London broil with olive oil and coat generously with the dry rub.  Let stand about 15 minutes at room temperature. 

(This is where DH takes over.  As the inimitable Rita Rudner observed:  Men will cook as long as there's danger involved.  My man loves his grill.)

Preheat grill.  Grill meat about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare.  Remove from heat and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing on the bias.

Two notes: 
1.  Do NOT overgrill this.  Seriously.  Wave it over the grill.  Do NOT walk away.  Err on the side of less time, particularly if you like your steak on the pink side.  The meat will continue to cook while it's resting.  It will be tough if you cook it too long.
2.  Slicing on the bias is important; it helps make the steak easier to chew.  Trust me.

Dave's Rub
Mix ingredients together thoroughly in a small bowl:

2 T. chili powder
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. sweet paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder
4 pinches salt
15 grinds black pepper

Note:  in a pinch, mix 2 T. Essence with 2 T. chili powder.  Food Network also had a recipe for Essence, and I mixed up a batch some time ago.  It's pretty much the same, save the chili powder.

Cheddar Cheesy Grits
Makes 4 servings.

1 1/2 c. whole milk (skim works fine, but buttermilk was too tangy for my taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. instant grits
1/2 c. sharp white Cheddar, grated

Scald milk with salt in saucepan over medium heat until little bubbles appear round the outside.  Slowly whisk in the grits and continue whisking until the mixture barely simmers.  Cook, whisking often, until very thick (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted and smooth.  Serve immediately.

Creamy Red Wine Viniagrette
Makes enough for 4 salads.

1/2 large shallot, minced (I use 1 tsp. bottled shallots because that's what's in my fridge)
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
25 grinds freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 T. olive oil

Whisk together first four ingredients in large bowl.  Slowly whisk in olive oil until homogeneous.  Season with salt to taste.

Dave adds a head of red leaf lettuce (washed, dried, cut into large chiffonade), tosses gently, and serves.  We ususally do this.  I get the first serving, DH gets the second, more-dressed (more mayo!) helping closer to the bottom of the bowl.

We have no lettuce today, and it's chilly, so Substitution Queen went to work with succotash in mind:

I mixed up a half-batch of the dressing.
I heated 1c. each frozen green beans, edmame, and corn in my micro-cooker.  Beans first (2 min), added edmame (another 2 min), added corn (final 2 min). 
I mixed them together.  Fantastic!

A note about timing:
The cheesy grits are the last thing to be done.  When DH heads out to the grill, I make the salad dressing and toss it with the vegetables.  The grits don't need to be started until the steak come back in to rest and be sliced.  It's a perfect balance of food and marital harmony in the kitchen:  grits "fixing" keeps me from getting in the way of man and grill and sharp knife.

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