Weeknight Shrimp and Leek Sauté

Inclement weather and feeling a bit under-the-weather has kept me indoors and in a simple food mood. I know when I’m starting to go downhill as we tend to eat out more, or graze on cold food in the fridge. Sometimes a little push to get back in the groove is what I need to get back on track – and it’s good to get “back to basics” with one pan meals.

In this case, I’m starting with quick cooking shrimp in mind, then changing it up to adapt to things I have in the fridge – think of it as a French-influenced stir-fried shrimp, without using the words “fusion cuisine” anywhere.

The key to this is building the dish in layers. Wash, clean, and slice leeks thinly. Cut up some celery too, if you happen to have it (I love the stuff). Heat up a pan with some high-temperature oil like grapeseed or safflower oil and a bit of butter for flavor. Leeks go in first to soften up and develop a bit of color. Then the celery just until it starts to soften, next a handful of walnut pieces, and when the nuts are toasted, in goes a pound of shrimp. Keep tossing or stirring the food in the pan – this is one of those times where you get to keep poking and mixing around the food so it cooks evenly. Finally, add a bit of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce to brighten it up, serve in a bowl, and finish with a drizzle of walnut oil over the top.

That’s all there is to it. One pan, a bit of cooking things in sequence rather than all at once, and dinner’s ready in about fifteen minutes. This is completely adaptable, too – once you decide on the central ingredient (Shrimp? Pork? Beef? Mushrooms?) it becomes an exercise in pulling together complementary flavors. For instance – swap shallots for the leek, sesame oil for the walnut oil, peanuts for the walnuts, and add a handful of basil and this becomes Thai-inspired. Play with it and make it your own.

And, however your day goes, I hope cooking a quick meal helps get your groove back.

Grilled Steak Shootout

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

Grilled steak. As iconic Americana goes, that’s right about at the top with Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving feast. And like so many shared cultural foods, if you ask ten people the best way to grill a steak, you’ll get twelve surefire answers. I wanted to set up a little side-by-side shootout for myself, to decide a) what works best for me, and b) whether I could finally grill a steak without overcooking it.

Steak Contestants - Spoon & KnifeThe contenders are bone-in strip steaks each clocking in right around 16 ounces. I don’t mess around with steak.

I wanted to try three methods:
• Grilling lid closed, single flip.
• Grilling lid open, single flip.
• Grilling lid open, constant flip.

While getting to know the grill again, I’ve found that foods cook more evenly with the lid closed. This makes me a bit twitchy as a cook. I firmly believe that when you put heat to food, for the most part you leave it alone – I don’t stand there and poke and prod food in the pan. However, I do have use of all my senses – sight, smell, sound, touch, and when appropriate taste – to know how food is cooking. Is it cooking faster than usual? Unevenly? Ready to toss, turn, or flip? Cooking times are at best approximate – if I tell you to grill a steak for two minutes, I don’t mean precisely-to-the-second, because there are so many variables to consider.

Steak Oiled For Grill - Spoon & Knife

Oiled and salted for the grill.

Cooking with the lid down is like the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker practices lightsaber use against a floating drone with the helmet’s blast shield down. It’s blindfolded cooking. You can kind of hear the food cooking, and you can generally smell it, but you can’t see it without opening up the grill, and doing that drops the surrounding temperature.

Still, it’s hard to argue with results, and in all the recipe testing I’ve done, I’m getting better results with the lid closed. All the instruction books say to do that (that I’ve seen, not just from STOK), and why argue with a manufacturer?

Open Grill Side By Side - Spoon & Knife

Open Grill methods, Side by Side

For the grill open test, I had two techniques to consider. One school of thought is to only touch the steak once (three times if you twist it for diamond grill marks), and otherwise? Leave. It. Alone. I generally follow this kind of rule on the cooktop.

The other technique is a constant flip. By flipping every 20-30 seconds, you’re in effect pulsing the direct heat hitting the steak, the argument being that the steak will cook more evenly (less of a band of grey overcooked steak around the center). I haven’t tried this before, although I certainly get the arguments.

STEAK MASTER RECIPE:
One steak (I like strip, ribeye, or sirloin; try for 1″ to 1-1/2″ thick)
Salt
Oil

Just before putting on a hot grill, season the steak with salt and brush a thin film of oil on.
Grill steak. On a hot grill, this is roughly 3:30 per side for medium rare, but that really depends on many factors – use an instant read thermometer to be certain.

Steak Results - Spoon & Knife

Clockwise from top left/top: open/single flip, open/continuous flip, closed/single flip.

The results? Better grill marks are observed on the closed lid steak. The constant flip did cook more evenly to the edges, and seared more evenly – no time to develop grill marks. The open lid single flip had the largest gray band of overdone meat around the outside. And flavor? All three were fantastic, although Christine and I tended to prefer the closed-lid steak (and I’ll work on my timing to keep from overcooking).

Of course, it never hurts to finish the grilled steak with a little lemon brown butter, alongside some grilled broccoli… but those are another post.

Seen in this post:

Grilled Steak

Ingredients

  • One 16 oz. strip steak, about 1" thick

Instructions

  1. Dry the outside of the steak and preheat the grill.
  2. Salt the steak and brush on a thin layer of oil
  3. Place steak on grill and close cover. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Rotate steak 45 degrees (diamond hash marks) and cook for 1 minute 30 seconds more.
  5. Flip steak and repeat.
  6. Let steak rest at least 10 minutes before cutting and eating.

Notes

NOTE: Cooking times are very approximate. Judge for yourself or, better, use an instant read thermometer.

http://spoonandknife.com/grilled-steak-shootout/

There’s burgers and there’s BURGERS…

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

It’s slightly cliché, but burgers seem as good a place as any to start with a grill. Straightforward, unfussy, simple is often better. Plus, it gave me a chance to do some side-by-side comparison of using the grill vs. the griddle for a better sear.

Burgers At Rest - Spoon & Knife

Burgers at rest.

KEEP IT SIMPLE BURGERS:
6 oz. beef chuck, freshly ground
(that’s it)

Grind the meat with a coarse die in the grinder.
Form into patties using a biscuit cutter or other form.
Let the patties rest on a tray in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Heat the grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Brush grates with oil.
Salt and brush/drizzle a thin film of oil on the top of the patties. Place on the grill oil side down and salt the other side.
Close the grill cover and check the burger after two minutes; the goal is to see juices start to seep or pool on the top of the patty.
Flip the patty and cook until desired doneness (an instant read thermometer is your friend here).

That’s it – straightforward and fast. One thing to note; compared to cooking these on a pan or griddle on the stovetop, these cooked a bit more evenly and didn’t have as much juices pooled on top for the flip. Keeping the grill cover closed creates something of an oven effect – it’s far from a sealed container, but it definitely holds heat in and affects cooking. The burgers cooked more evenly and with better grill marks when closed, so I still prefer that method.

Burgers On Grill - Spoon & Knife

Burgers on the grill.

I also cooked a burger on the griddle; on a stove, a flat hot metal surface helps with even all-over sear. I didn’t get so much the same effect on the grill griddle insert, something I want to try out a few more times. Cooking burgers over the grill grates has the advantage of a larger surface (more meat!).

However, the griddle was perfect for the elevated form of a burger: the bacon-wrapped juicy lucy.

Making Burger Patties - Spoon & Knife

Making burger patties

BACON-WRAPPED JUICY LUCY (CHEESE STUFFED BURGER):
Two 4 oz. beef chuck patties, formed as above
Two slices of American cheese (Use whatever cheese you prefer, but I’m a sucker for gooey American on a burger. Call me old-fashioned.)
Three slices of thick-cut bacon

When forming the bottom patty, press down in the center to create a small indentation or well. Fold the corners of the cheese in to the center, and place the cheese on the bottom patty, leaving a margin of beef around to help seal. Place or form the second patty on top of the first, remove the mold, and double-check that a good seal has formed – nothing quite as deflating as a cheese blowout on the grill.

After resting, wrap the patty in the bacon strips. There’s not a precise science to this, but I try to cover as evenly as possible (i.e. don’t have all the ends meet in the center) and keep all the ends on the same side of the burger (so, a “seam side” and a “flat side”).

Preheat the griddle side of the grill over medium heat. Place the burger bacon-seam-side down to start, and cook until juices are seen on the top or the bacon browns well on the seam side. Flip and continue cooking until done.

This burger needs to cook more gently than the simple recipe – this is a larger burger, with cheese at the core, which needs to cook and melt before the bacon exterior burns. On the Quattro, that meant a hot side grill for the simple burgers and a medium side griddle for the juicy lucy – both can cook at the same time.

Bacon wrapped Juicy Lucy - Spoon & Knife

Bacon wrapped Juicy Lucy

You know, this whole grilling thing? I could get the hang of it.

Items shown in this post:

Bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed burgers

Ingredients

  • Two 4 oz. beef chuck patties, formed as above
  • Two slices of American cheese (Use whatever cheese you prefer, but I'm a sucker for gooey American on a burger. Call me old-fashioned.)
  • Three slices of thick-cut bacon

Instructions

  1. When forming the bottom patty, press down in the center to create a small indentation or well. Fold the corners of the cheese in to the center, and place the cheese on the bottom patty, leaving a margin of beef around to help seal. Place or form the second patty on top of the first, remove the mold, and double-check that a good seal has formed - nothing quite as deflating as a cheese blowout on the grill.
  2. After resting, wrap the patty in the bacon strips. There's not a precise science to this, but I try to cover as evenly as possible (i.e. don't have all the ends meet in the center) and keep all the ends on the same side of the burger (so, a "seam side" and a "flat side").
  3. Preheat the griddle side of the grill over medium heat. Place the burger bacon-seam-side down to start, and cook until juices are seen on the top or the bacon browns well on the seam side. Flip and continue cooking until done.
http://spoonandknife.com/theres-burgers-and-theres-burgers/

STOK’d about grilling

[NOTE: This is a sponsored post from STOK Grills.]

This is a difficult one for me to admit. But as they say, naming your problem is the first step in overcoming it. Here goes:

Hi. My name’s Mike. I love to cook, but I can’t grill.

Whew. Yes, it’s true; I’ve grown far more comfortable in front of an oven and the burners of a cooktop than I am standing over a grill. Through years of practice, I get how they work – how to manage heat, timing, and ingredients to (much more often than not – nobody’s perfect) create the food I have in mind.

Grills? That’s a whole different story. I seemed to need triple the charcoal I should have in order to build a fire with any heat, and no matter how I tried, any meat I cooked was cooked through to well-done far sooner than I got any appreciable sear. Grill marks? Forget about it.

And so, my kettle charcoal grill has sat abandoned on the back patio, surviving a house move, eventually rusting the vents open on the bottom. (I have an idea to fill it with potting soil and turn it into an herb planter. Christine and I are still discussing whether this is a good idea.)

However, all this is beginning to change. We met the marketing team behind STOK Grills at the recent Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, and things started to click for me. A gas grill with substantial burners that should be able to generate significant heat. An insert system to swap out grill grates for other platforms like a griddle, vegetable tray, pizza stone, or cast iron pot – and inserts that felt more substantial than gimmicky. Maybe this could help cure me.

Learning to grill - Spoon & Knife

Meet the new grill.

 

We’re happy now to kick off something new for Spoon & Knife – a series of posts sponsored by STOK Grills. We’ve partnered with them to see what I can come up with using their products. I’ve been getting to know the grill over the last couple of weeks, testing out recipes and techniques, trying to bring the Spoon & Knife meatatarian style outdoors.

Before getting to the food posts, a few words about the grill itself. I’m using the STOK Quattro, a four burner model with two insert slots – basically, their largest gas grill. Assembly was straightforward enough, although more involved than I expected. Having never owned a gas grill, somehow in my head this amounted to “drive to your nearest hardware store, pick out a grill, put it in your truck, and go home and cook”. Instead, the delivery folks showed up with a large, quite heavy box on the front doorstep. I ended up unboxing in the front room of the house and carrying the grill parts out to the back patio one-at-a-time. Whoever did the packaging for this grill should win awards; well protected, many grill parts were sized exactly to fit inside each other, like some sort of culinary matryoshka. With a bit of work, though, I had a new grill ready to go in the side yard.

Overall, I’m impressed – it heats quickly, has the oomph to sear and leave grill marks, and is pretty easy to clean up. I haven’t owned other gas grills for comparison, but it’s a good size and sturdy enough for what I’ve thrown at it so far.

Thanks again to the folks at STOK for the opportunity to do this. On to the food…

I’m on the Radio! (Well, Podcast.)

The Life of Dad After Show PodcastI had the pleasure of being a guest on the Life of Dad Aftershow (episode 85), hosted by two great guys, Ryan Hamilton and Art Eddy, who Christine and I have gotten to know through a network of dad bloggers.

One of the most rewarding things to me about learning to cook and sharing our ideas and techniques here is being able to feed family and friends. I mentioned in the show that there’s something I’ve come to realize: I like to eat, I love to cook, but I’m my best person when I’m feeding people. My goal here with Spoon & Knife has never been to show off cooking skills (plenty of people cook better than me!) but to educate and encourage people to get into the kitchen and cook, for themselves and for the people around them.

Thanks to Ryan and Art for giving me the chance to talk about this mission. It was also a test for me to try something other than writing. I feel I’m better in dialogue and conversation than I am forcing my ideas into written pieces with start, middle, and end. Christine and I have talked about this and toyed with the notion of other formats and media; I appreciate the guys for being my first crack at podcasting.

Go check out their site and network, have a listen to the show (and many others in their archives!), and leave them some love. They’re doing good work encouraging involved dads everywhere.

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