October 22nd, 2009

Steak, Moonstruck and Other Good Stuff


I LOVE movies — don’t you? You can lose yourself in a movie, expand your mind, or just laugh for a moment.

Super Chef Sister-in-Law Sandy is here today with her experience with the movie Moonstruck.

It involves steak, mad love and iron intake.

Intrigued? Read on . . .

One of my favorite movies is Moonstruck, with Nicolas Cage and Cher starring as a couple of Italians living in Little Italy in New York City who fall in love, despite some obstacles.  It is kind of a foodie movie, in that much of the dialogue/action revolves around the dinner table.  The two of them begin as pretty violent adversaries, and then she cooks him a steak so that they can have a civilized discussion about a family rift.

There are several interesting things about the scene that really resonate with me — the first of course being that a meal is a way to bring people together.  I am definitely a food equates to love kind of girl — a meal together is really one of the most joyous ways to get together.  I enjoy having a meal together with family or friends, and I think that preparing food together is such an intimate way to get to know people.  It just feels comfortable working together.  Think of all those awkward dates in college when you were waiting for the waiter or waiting for the food to come.  Nothing to do, nervous… yuck!  Making something from your kitchen is really a way to show people that you like them.

Another thing that I find really funny about the scene is that Cher does what she thinks is best for his character, despite what he wants.  “I’m not hungry,” he says and she replies that she is cooking him a steak.  “I like it well done,” he says.  And she says, “You’ll eat it bloody to feed your blood.”  When the food is prepared, he grunts, “It’s good.”  They eat together and work out their issues.

When I watched this again the other day, I wondered about the line “You’ll eat it bloody to feed your blood.”  From my college nutrition class, I remembered a few things about iron absorption, but not anything specifically about doneness related to iron levels.  So after a bit of research on the Internet, I came up with a controlled study done by the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University, New Zealand.  Their conclusion was that cooking beef indeed did change some of the soluble form of iron in beef to insoluble, and a greater doneness meant that more of the iron was converted to an insoluble (therefore unusable) form for human consumption.  They did conclude, though, that despite these changes with cooking, beef remains a good source of iron and a useful source of the potentially bioactive compounds taurine, carnosine, coenzyme Q10 and creatine.

If you want to maximize the amount of usable iron you get from any meal, it is important to limit tannins (found in tea, red wine and other sources) taken at the same meal, and instead enjoy your steak with some vitamin C.  How about a nice glass of lemonade or water with a splash of lime?  Also, if you eat other foods like beans, which are a good source of iron also, the steak will help you absorb iron from the other foods.

When my son was a toddler, his pediatrician diagnosed a mild iron deficiency in him.  After my first taste of the supplement recommended to me for him I knew I’d have to find a way to get his iron intake up from food sources — iron supplements taste awful, worse than any other medicine I have ever taken myself.

At the time I did lots of research into what I could to increase his iron absorption from food.  One of the simplest ways that you can increase the amount of iron in your diet is to use cast iron to cook with.  Believe it or not, a bit of the iron from the cooking vessel actually imparts itself into whatever you cook in it.  Another easy way to get iron in him was in the hot cereals aisle.  Check out some of the iron levels in those cereals.  I even used some of the boxed cereals to make muffins and baked goods — you can hide a lot of goodness in a banana chocolate chip muffin.  Now he is the biggest steak eater in the family, so not so much a problem anymore.

If you have questions about the iron levels in your blood or in your diet, please consult your health professional.  I just think it’s interesting to know the little things that we can do to increase the nutritional benefits from the food that we eat. Enjoy your steak – it’s health food!

Nutrition Facts

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron in healthy adults is 10 milligrams per day for men and 15 milligrams per day for premenopausal women. Premenopausal women’s needs are higher than men’s needs because women lose iron during menstruation.

It is generally easier for men to get enough iron than it is for women. Because they are usually bigger, men have higher calorie needs and will most likely eat enough food to meet their iron requirements. Women, on the other hand, tend to eat less. This makes it more difficult for them to meet their iron needs. It is, therefore, particularly important for premenopausal women to eat foods high in iron.

Pregnant women will need as much as 30 milligrams of iron per day. The main reason is because the unborn baby needs iron for development. As a result, it will draw from the mother’s iron stores. This can quickly deplete a woman of iron if she is not eating enough iron rich foods.

In general, meat, fish, and poultry are excellent sources. Other sources of iron include beans, dried fruits, whole grains, fortified cereals, and enriched breads.

Iron is a mineral essential for life. Found in red blood cells, iron’s primary role is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without oxygen, the body’s cells cannot function normally.

If the body’s iron stores become too low, an iron-deficiency anemia can occur. This is characterized by weakness, lethargy, muscle fatigue, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, a person’s skin may become pale due to a lack of red blood cells in the body.

Source: http://www.calories-nutrition.buddyslim.com/beef-steak/

Photo courtesy of SmackAMack.wordpress.com.

September 3rd, 2009

What kind of steak should I buy?

What cut of steak should I buy

School is back  in session so what better time to brush up on a lesson that is near and dear to my heart?  Yes, class, it’s time for a lesson on steak.

Chef Sandy goes through the ins and outs of cuts for us here. And if you pay attention you might just get an extra recess.

I often get the question, “What kind of steak should I buy?”

  • Well, that kind of depends on a few factors…
  • What do you want to spend?
  • What sort of texture do you want?
  • What is the doneness level that you prefer?
  • What kind of fat percentage do you want?
  • What cooking method are you planning to use?

Here is a brief overview:

Many of the cuts of beef that are used for steaks are cut from the loin portion of the beef.

Most of us are well aware that filet mignon or beef tenderloin (and Chateaubriand) are all part of the same very expensive cut of beef.  There is very little waste, very little work for the cook (little trimming is necessary) and it is appropriate for anything and anyone who likes steak, even at the fanciest meal.  The texture of tenderloin is very tender, and some say that the flavor is not assertively beefy enough, but that is really a matter of choice.

Many times this cut of meat will be served with a sauce or an equally luxurious topping like a bleu cheese topping or it will be wrapped in bacon, all of which will enhance the flavor. This is the priciest cut of steak, but again, there is no waste, and not too much shrinkage, so what you buy (and pay for) is what you get to eat.

But what is the difference between a T-bone and a Porterhouse?  How about a KC Strip and NY Strip?

A Porterhouse is a steak with a T-bone in the middle, and a large portion of both tenderloin and strip loin.  A T-bone is the same steak, but the tenderloin portion is usually smaller than a silver dollar, or even non-existent.  The bone-in nature of this steak usually yields great flavor, and oftentimes at the grocery store the T-bones actually have a large filet portion (and should therefore be labeled as the more expensive Porterhouse — shh, we won’t tell).

The difference between a KC Strip and a NY Strip is basically a marketing difference.  Depends on where you are from.  Either could come with a bone, but often not, and both are a generally oblong shaped steak, with not much visible marbling, but fat around the outside (non-bone side) of the meat.  Depending on where you shop, and what part of the country you are from, these steaks are often in the high-middle of the price range for quick cooking steaks.

A ribeye or Delmonico steak is well marbled with fat, and because of its high fat content, can be cooked more well done and still remain juicy.  This kind of steak will flame up on the grill, so it should definitely be watched carefully.  One trick I have used is to first grill the steak on the grate to get grill marks (and flavor) and then put heavy duty foil on the grill and put the steaks on top to finish cooking them without incinerating them.

Sirloin steaks on the other hand, may need marinating to become juicy.  They should not usually be cooked to more than medium doneness and oftentimes are sliced thinly against the grain for presentation to help ensure a tender dining experience.  Flank steak and skirt steak (fajitas) are also cuts of meat which should be marinated, cooked quickly to a med-rare or medium doneness and sliced across the grain for tenderness.

Round steaks are usually too tough to use a direct cooking method, and are better suited to another preparation method like braising — think Swiss steak.  Brown, then cook the steak until tender in flavor liquid (gravy) for a few hours.  Many different cultures have variations on this theme, and a thin round steak can also be used as a wrapper for flavorful ingredients, with the whole bundle braised in flavorful liquid for a delicious meal.  Italians call it Braciole (may also be made with flank steak) Germans have Rouladen.  Long story short, braise it for great taste and tenderness.

If you are making Chicken Fried Steak, the traditional choice is a tenderized round steak.  This is a piece of meat which has been put through a process which mechanically pounds the steak and breaks up the tissues with thousands of little blades.  This is the only way to use this steak in a quick cooking manner, otherwise you would end up with shoeleather.  I have seen Chicken Fried Ribeye and Chicken Fried Filet on some fancier menus here in Texas, and since these are more tender pieces of meat, no mechanical tenderizing is necessary. Tasty, and about as decadent as you can get…

If you have any questions about a piece of meat you are considering buying, just ask.  At many grocery stores or even Web site, sometimes they have flip guides to cuts of meat and preferred cooking method, and sometimes even stickers on the actual meat packages which say “Great for the Grill” or “Best for Braising” or some similar catchy tips.  Or better yet, try some new choices next time you go to your favorite steak restaurant, and make a note to yourself about what you like and the preparation methods you enjoy.

Then you can try them out at home!

August 19th, 2009

Steak Recipe: Bleu Cheese Crusted Filet

Bleu Cheese Crusted Filet

So, a couple of weeks ago I received a question from a reader asking about a recipe for a filet mignon encrusted in bleu cheese.

This, of course, was a new one on me so I posed the question to Super Sister-in-Law Chef  Sandy.

And, as expected, she used to prepare this delectable dish when she toiled in the kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton.

Here, she shares her secrets for making it just like the pros!

(And check out that picture she took — isn’t it to die for???)

Here’s what she has to say . . .

Recently I was asked a question about how to make a bleu cheese crusted filet like someone’s favorite restaurant did it.  There are several ways to do this, depending on the outcome you are looking for.

You can simply cook your steak to desired doneness via any combination of direct and indirect cooking that works for you (sauté/oven, over the hot coals/on the side) and then simply top the steaks with bleu cheese for a moment, just like you would top a cheeseburger, thereby insuring a gooey topping.  Or, you could put the whole thing in a fiery hot oven which would brown the cheese.  My favorite method is the one below. You make a cheese crust, using breadcrumbs, butter and seasonings, in addition to bleu cheese.  You could even add pecans or walnuts to this versatile topping, or substitute another cheese if you like.  Just keep the ratio about ½ breadcrumbs and ½ other stuff.  Plus enough melted butter to hold it together. This mixture is finished on top of the steaks and you get a crunchy, cheesy topping which I think is a great contrast to the very tender steak.

Bleu Cheese Crusted Filet of Beef

2 5-6 oz Tenderloin of Beef Steaks (Filets)

Salt and Pepper

½ cup panko (Japanese style) bread crumbs, or fresh breadcrumbs

1 Tbsp butter

½ tsp garlic or onion salt, or

1 tsp kosher salt, if desired

4 turns fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs, such as rosemary or parsley

½ cups crumbled bleu cheese

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

Canola or Peanut Oil, for searing

Allow the steaks to set at room temperature for about 30 minutes to equalize the internal temperature for more even cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare crumb topping:  Combine panko or fresh bread crumbs and cold butter in microwaveable bowl.  Season with flavored salt or kosher salt and pepper.  Heat on high in microwave until butter melts, stirring every 30 seconds to distribute the browned crumbs.  Remove from microwave, allow to cool for a few seconds and add the herbs and bleu cheese.  Use a fork to distribute the bleu cheese into the crumbs without making it into a paste.  Taste for seasoning, set aside.

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Just before searing, season the filets with salt and pepper.

To sear the meat, preheat shallow sided sauté or frying pan over medium high heat until it is very hot.  Add 1 teaspoon canola oil and heat until the oil is shimmering.  Without crowding them, carefully add the steaks to the hot pan.  Do not move them for about 90 seconds, in order to ensure a nice crust.  Using tongs, carefully brown all sides of the steak, each time allowing the crust to form before disturbing the steaks.

When well-seared, remove steaks to an open baking pan to rest until the final cooking.

Everything may be prepared ahead up until this point, as much as a day in advance.  Allow steaks to come to room temperature if they are cooked ahead and refrigerated.

When you are about 10 minutes out from serving time, finish the steaks in the preheated oven. The time this will take will depend on the doneness you desire and the thickness of your steaks.  For the 6-oz filet pictured, which was a traditionally shaped (i.e. tall) filet, prepared medium rare, about 8 minutes of total oven time was required.

First, put the steaks into the oven for 5 minutes without topping.  Then remove from the oven and carefully brush mustard onto steaks to allow the crumb mixture to adhere. Just a thin coat — you may not need all of it, depending on the surface area to cover.  Then simply divide the crumb mixture over the steaks and return to the oven.  Watch carefully, they will burn quickly.  Check after 2 minutes; my steaks took about 3 minutes to get the topping brown and bubbly.

Allow the steaks to rest a minute as you prepare the plates for service, then serve and enjoy!