My sister and I moved into the old farmhouse during a particularly snowy March. With miles of huge old cottonwood trees shading the lines between our neighborhood and the rural electric company that serves us, we had a lot of power outages that spring.
But as soon as we bought a portable generator, Colorado experienced two of the driest years on record. We didn’t use the generator at all, other than starting it up periodically to keep it in working order.
But last spring, we got a few decent snowstorms and the generator started earning its prime spot in the shed. And then the flood happened, and our trusty generator kept us running for a full 3 days. Internet, sump pump, fridge, phones, and incubator — without backup power, it would have been so much worse.
And now, I can start the generator in my sleep. Gone are the days of nervously re-reading the instruction manual by the light of my headlamp before I pull the cord. We’re friends now, the generator and I.
Fortunately, I also have a gas stove and plenty of matches at my disposal. So once the the essentials are hooked up to power again, I always head for the comfort of my kitchen.
I love cooking during a blackout, with only the glow of candlelight (ok, and my headlamp) to light my way. Somehow, the food always tastes better.
Last time, it was a couple of beautiful grass-fed steaks from Windsor Dairy. So in honor of the oncoming winter and the end of grilling season, today I bring you my tips for a perfectly pan-seared steak (and one of my favorite salads). It’s a meal best made by candlelight.
For a perfectly seared piece of meat, use a heavy pan (cast iron is best). Throw in some fat, like butter or bacon grease, and get it really hot but not smoking. Make sure you leave plenty of room around each piece of meat as you put it in the pan, so it can brown. Then, don’t touch it.
Seriously, just leave it alone. I know how tempting it can be to peek; I’ve ruined many nice cuts of meat this way. You have a mouthwatering steak sizzling in the pan, and even though the recipe says to cook on high heat for 5 minutes each side, it sounds like it’s burning. Sure enough, when you try to look it sticks to the pan, and then you panic and end up with a mangled piece of meat that’s barely even lost its pink. And it’s now it’s never going to brown.
If you think it’s time to flip whatever you’re browning, grab the sides with a pair of tongs and –very gently– try to jiggle it. If it doesn’t move easily, it’s not ready to be turned yet. Sticking to the pan is part of the process as the meat starts to cook. As long as you’ve greased your pan sufficiently, the meat will lift up as it browns and you’ll be able to turn it without leaving half of it on the pan.
Instead of trying to peek at that steak, pour yourself a glass of wine, be patient, and listen to the noises it makes as it cooks. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize the difference in sound (and smell) when it starts to brown.
Then, let it rest. When you cut into a juicy piece of meat as soon as you take it off the heat, the liquids bubble out onto the plate and you’re left with a dry, disappointing mess. But if you let it rest for 10-15 minutes (or 20-25, for larger cuts like roasts), the juices will settle back into the meat instead of running all over the plate.
While the steaks rested under a loose covering of tinfoil, I pulled out some leftover salad ingredients from the night before. Toasted pine nuts, fresh basil, chewy prosciutto, and nutty grated parmesan melting together under a warm balsamic dressing. Add some crusty bread, and the best steaks I’ve ever cooked, and it was almost a shame when the lights flickered back on.
So bring on the snow and the wind (mostly snow, please). I’m ready.
adapted from Colorado Collage
- 4 cups mixed greens
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup fresh italian parsley leaves, pulled off the stem
- 4 green onions
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 3 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 3 ounces thinly sliced Prosciutto
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Set oven to 325F and spread pine nuts in a glass baking dish. Place pine nuts in oven as it preheats and set a timer for 4 minutes.
- When your timer goes off, stir pine nuts and continue checking them for 1-minute increments until they begin to turn golden brown and fragrant, then set them aside to cool.
- Wash greens, basil, and parsley and place in a towel to dry.
- Rinse green onions, peeling off any wilted outer layers, and slice thinly (both green and white parts.)
- Cut prosciutto into bite size squares.
- Peel garlic cloves and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices.
- In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over very low heat.
- Add garlic and cook until barely browned, about 8 minutes.
- Remove garlic with a slotted spoon; discard.
- Add balsamic and red wine vinegar.
- Increase heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add brown sugar -- careful, the dressing will splatter.
- Cook 1 minute and taste for sweet-tart balance -- stir in additional sugar or vinegar as desired. If it still tastes too sharp, simmer for a minute or two longer.
- Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
- Arrange greens and herbs in individual bowls and scatter pine nuts, prosciutto and parmesan on top.
- Drizzle a few teaspoons of dressing over each bowl.
- Serve immediately and pass additional dressing.