I had a nice flank steak marinating in all kinds of goodness last Saturday, with the intention of grilling it Sunday, but the weather and life in general had other plans. It drizzled all day, and then the person I was supposed to cook for decided they wanted Thai food, and no one else was around at short notice to eat with me. I was feeling pretty glum about all of this. It’s one thing to eat alone if you’re just eating a salad or leftovers, but sitting down to a 2-lb. steak by yourself just makes you feel slightly ridiculous. It sits on a platter in its burnished glory, juices pooling, mocking you with its heft and surplus. No, flank steak is meant to be made for multiple people, not one pint-sized female who can only eat a few measly slices before becoming too full.
Nevertheless, I had already been marinating the meat for 24 hours, and didn’t want to gamble with letting it sit any longer, so I valiantly tried to get the grill going. I should mention that, while I have “grilled” many times, I have never actually lit a grill as there has always been someone (ok, a guy) around to do it (hey, I have to make them feel they are contributing in some small way, right?). So I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but the coals would not light despite the copious amount of lighter fluid I dispensed all over them (and it wasn’t even raining aymore at that point).
On to plan B- the broiler. I have never broiled steak before either, but I figured I would just wing it. I didn’t do too badly- the steak was more medium-well than the medium-rare I was going for, but it wasn’t ruined by any means, and the marinade (which I simmered on the stove and used as a sauce) was outstanding. If coffee in a marinade sounds too weird, please just trust me and try this. The coffee blends really well with the other flavors and adds an unexpected depth. Plus, assuming you don’t eat this alone like I did, you can play a fun game with your dinner guests having them guess the secret ingredient. If you want to do wine with this (and why not?) you could try a peppery Shiraz to complement the black pepper in the sauce. I’ll be posting soon on the potato salad in the photo as well, so stay tuned for that too!
They say that if you get one really great recipe out of a cookbook to add to your repertoire, it’s worth the purchase. At today’s $35-and-up cookbook prices and free recipes on blogs everywhere, I’m not sure if that’s absolutely true, but I will say that this recipe makes this particular book worthwhile for me. (I have to confess, it’s the only one I’ve made so far from the book, but if enthusiastic Amazon reviewers are to be believed, it’s certainly not the only one that’s worth trying!) The recipe takes less than 30 minutes active prep time, yet has so much more of a “wow” factor than many dishes which take hours to prepare. Needless to say, your sauce will only be as good as the coffee you use, so please take care to use a quality coffee that’s not too harsh or acidic.
1 flank steak, 1 1/2- 2 lbs
1 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbs dijon mustard
1 tbs neutral vegetable oil
1 tsp coarsely gound black pepper
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Whisk together all the marinade ingredients (i.e. everything but the steak) and place in a sealable plastic bag or flat, shallow container large enough to hold the meat. Rinse the meat, pat dry, and place in the marinade, covered, for 2 hours minimum (up to 24 hours). Turn occasionally.
Heat the grill of your choice to medium-high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade, scraping any clinging sauce and shallots back into the dish with a spatula. Pat the steak dry, and oil and salt the surface lightly. Grill 3-6 minutes per side, taking care not to overcook (because it is so lean, flank steak is best served on the rare side). Baste with the marinade while cooking, reserving at least 1/2 cup. When done, set on a platter to rest, tented with foil, while you finish the sauce (let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing).
Put the remaining marinade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil along with any juices that collect on the platter. Reduce to a simmer and cook for a minute or two; the sauce should thicken slightly. Slice the steak thinly against the grain and spoon the sauce over to serve.
As part of Marvin’s job as the managing photographer at Model D, he is responsible for illustrating their Development News section. It’s basically a round-up of short news stories on recently opened small businesses in Detroit, or anything else related to business growth in the city. The nice thing about this is that I’m always one of the first to know when a cool new restaurant opens its doors!
Corktown has been buzzing lately with the addition of the Mercury Coffee Bar, Mudgie’s (a sandwich joint in the building that used to house Eph McNally’s), and now Le Petit Zinc, a tiny café/restaurant on Howard St. just west of Trumbull. Serving sweet and savory crêpes, sandwiches, salads and pastries, it’s perfect for a light (and inexpensive) breakfast or lunch. The space is small but the bright color scheme makes it seem open and inviting rather than cramped.
We showed up for breakfast but too hungry to just have pastries, so Marvin had a ham and brie crêpe and I had the “Poulet-Ratatouille”, filled with ratatouille (eggplant, squash, tomato) and pieces of what tasted like rotisserie chicken. The savory crêpes come with a small side of organic green salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Also on the menu are a variety of sandwiches and salads (and a charcuterie plate- yum) that all looked good- I will be returning soon to try these. Our coffee was excellent- Marvin got a big bowl of café au lait, and I got a black coffee that was made fresh to order (I believe it was made Americano-style, by adding hot water to espresso, which I do at home all the time).
Overall, Le Petit Zinc has a lot to recommend itself- a cheerful atmosphere, a solid, inexpensive menu, and a friendly proprietor behind the zinc (bar). In warmer weather, patrons will be able to sit outside in an enclosed courtyard. The restaurant does not yet have a liquor license, but you are welcome to bring your own wine or beer until they do. (Update: the patio is open, and looks fabulous! Also, please note that there is a small “recycling fee” for those bringing their own alcohol.)
Those of you in the Detroit area have probably already heard about Mercury Coffee Bar, the new coffee shop/ restaurant on Michigan Avenue at 14th Street. Like its across-the-street neighbor, Slow’s (whose owner Phil Cooley is a co-owner), it has quickly garnered a ton of positive press, word-of-mouth buzz, and even controversy for being an oasis of quality food and drink in an area where many buildings are boarded up- like Detroit’s Central Station, which looms large as you look out Mercury’s west windows. I used to live in this neighborhood several years ago, a block from the coffee shop, and back then there was next to nothing going on apart from the occasional prostitution activity. Ever since Slow’s opened, however, the blocks between Trumbull and 14th Street are a destination (thanks also to the recently spruced-up Lager House and to a certain extent, LJ’s Lounge) for people from all over the metro area. With the addition of MCB, this stretch of Michigan has cemented its status not just as a nighttime destination, but somewhere to hang out before the sun goes down as well.
MCB has been open for a few months now, but I hadn’t had a chance to check it out yet … Usually if I venture in that direction, it’s not until after 10PM, when they’re already closed. But my friend Jim had offered to take me out for a birthday lunch, so right away I thought it would be a good excuse to make the trip during daylight hours. I headed down a bit early with my laptop to scope it out and have a chance to take a few photos prior to his arrival. Right away, I was charmed by the über-friendly staff, the cool “electroclash” décor (echoing the turquoise and magenta of their neon sign), and the bright, sunny interior. The only drawback of the layout is that there aren’t many seats available upstairs- only three or four tables for two and then counter seating along another wall. They have a basement with additional tables, but I wasn’t too into sitting down there when the day was so lovely. Luckily I was able to nab a table upstairs about ten minutes after my arrival, although with the free WiFi, people with laptops tend to camp out and you may have to wait a while to get a good seat.
So how was the coffee? In addition to regular brewed coffee and the requisite espresso-based drinks, Mercury offers what they call “Slow Coffee”. This is basically drip coffee that is prepared when you order it, by pouring hot water over the grounds and letting it drip through a filter into your cup. I ordered the Ethiopian, and while it was very good, I’m not sure the extra expense ($3.25-$3.75 a mug) is justified taste-wise. I think you would have to be a hardcore coffee connoisseur to notice an appreciable difference. However, I suppose it’s nice to have that option, and there is evidence that coffee consumed within 20 minutes of brewing has higher levels of antioxidants.
What really impressed me at MCB was the food. The menu is small but focused, and everyone but the pickiest eaters should be able to find something they’ll like. The offerings include two types of soup, several sandwiches (including panini), a few salads and sides, some breakfast items, and a variety of sweet and savory pastry items. The menu changes occasionally, so check the website. I ordered a ham panino with cheddar and peach relish and an arugula salad that had bacon, parmesan and almonds with a lemon dressing. The peach relish was delicious; it contained rosemary that is grown in-house in window boxes, and also had a licorice note that may have been fennel seed or star anise. My salad was made with very fresh arugula (no wilty/slimy surprises like you get some places) and had the perfect balance of dressing to salad to toppings. Jim had a turkey sandwich that I did not taste, but he seemed to be a satisfied customer. It’s worth noting that Mercury owner Todd Wickstrom (formerly a partner at Zingerman’s) is committed to using local ingredients whenever possible (read this article); that gives me even more reason to support them, and helps explain the food prices being on the high-ish end (some panini are priced over $9).
I ended up lingering long after lunch drinking my refill, working on some photo editing for my previous blog post and just enjoying the sunshine streaming through the windows and the colorful view across the street (see below). It was an indulgence to be able to spend the afternoon that way- alone but not alone; in a new yet already familiar and comfortable place. I greatly look forward to the next time I’m able to return to try some more of the wonderful food and spend some quality time with myself or a friend.
Update: I am sad to report that as of 2/9/09, after only a few months in business, Mercury has closed its doors. I’m really surprised by this news, as I had heard almost exclusively positive feedback on it, and there were always customers in there when I drove past. Apparently they’re going to regroup and reopen; let’s hope they don’t keep us waiting too long.
Update # 2: I read yesterday that they are already reopening this Friday, 2/13/09. That was fast! I’m hoping they didn’t make too drastic a change to their menu, or decide to sacrifice their ideals of having fresh local ingredients. We shall see.
Marvin was out of town at a photography seminar in New York on his birthday, so I offered to have a birthday dinner ready for him the evening of his return. “Sounds good”, he said. “But don’t feel like you have to do anything fancy. Even something simple like macaroni & cheese would be fine.” He then paused, adding, “Well, you could throw some prosciutto in it!” I think the idea was that mac and cheese would be less hassle than, say, a meat-based main dish, but the mess in my kitchen today belies the supposed simplicity of the endeavor. But, hey, I’m game to cook just about anything, especially for a birthday. Ask and you shall receive!
I decided to stick with the southern/comfort food theme, so I made a big pot of collard greens in the traditional style and baked a spaghetti squash (courtesy of Jim Diamond’s garden). I packed it all in the car along with a bottle of 2006 Benton Lane Pinot Noir and headed over to Hamtramck.
Unfortunately for Marvin, I still have yet to get a camera and had to enlist him to take photographs before he got to dig in. Thanks for being a sport, hon! My first question re: the mac & cheese was, “Is it as good as Slows? (You Detroiters know what I’m talking about… their mac & cheese is a gold standard.)
He said it was just as good, only not as spicy as theirs. I’m happy with that feedback, considering it was my first attempt! The Pinot Noir, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley (our favorite region for domestic Pinot) was light and peppery and went well with the richness of the cheese and the smokiness of the collards. While we ate, we watched “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”… (Fortunately, the fact that it was the “Who pooped the bed” episode did not seem to affect Marvin’s appetite, as he had seconds.)
After a suitable pause for digestion, I dished up dessert. I had decided to make an espresso granita (see below), since I figured we wouldn’t have room for much more than that after the pasta. Again, I made him photograph his food before blowing out the candle and eating it. Thanks hon. I hope you enjoyed your birthday meal as much as I enjoyed making it!
Decadent Birthday Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from The Balthazar Cookbook)
1 16-oz package pasta (I like to use shells)
9 oz grated gruyère cheese (3 cups)
3 oz grated parmesan (1 cup)- NOT from a can!
4 oz unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk, warmed in the microwave or on the stove
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto (obviously optional for the vegetarians)
1 whole shallot (or substitute 1 small onion)
cooking oil (vegetable or olive)
dry mustard powder, white pepper, and nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
Directions: Preheat oven to 400. Put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil for the pasta. Finely mince the shallot or onion. Cut the prosciutto slices in half lengthwise and then crosswise into thin strips (a kitchen scissors works great if you have one). Warm a little oil in a small skillet and sauté the shallot for a minute or two; then add the prosciutto. Cook until the shallot has softened and the prosciutto is beginning to get crispy. Set aside. If you’re using breadcrumbs, sauté them in some butter until they’re golden brown and set aside as well.
When your pasta water comes to a rapid boil, put in the noodles and cook for 1-2 minutes less than the package indicates (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Drain, toss with about a tablespoon of butter or oil, and set aside.
While your pasta’s cooking, get going on your béchamel sauce: Melt the 4 oz of butter in a medium saucepan (large enough to hold all the milk and still leave room to stir). When it’s melted, gradually whisk in the flour with a wire wisk, making sure it doesn’t get lumpy or burn. Cook this roux for a few minutes to develop a nice nutty flavor and get rid of the raw flour taste. Slowly add the milk, whisking so as to avoid lumps. When all the milk has been incorporated, cook the sauce a couple more minutes to thicken it, until it just reaches a boil. Add 2 cups of the gruyère and all of the parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted. At this point you can add your seasonings. I didn’t specify quantities because I feel it’s a matter of taste, but try 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, about 1 tsp dry mustard powder, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper and several grinds of nutmeg. Add stuff a little at a time and taste as you go!! (Believe me, sticking your finger in cheese sauce to taste it is no chore.)
When you’ve got your sauce sufficiently seasoned, mix in the pasta and prosciutto, if using, and put in a large baking dish such as a lasagna pan. Bake uncovered for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining gruyère cheese on top (and breadcrumbs, if using). Bake an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is golden. Be careful not to overbake, as the cheese can separate and become greasy. Serves 4-6 (or one hungry birthday boy who wants leftovers).
Espresso Granita with Chocolate Whipped Cream
This is about as easy to make as desserts come, but make sure to start early in the day (or even the day before) to make sure it has time to freeze properly.
For the Granita:
3 cups espresso or triple-strength brewed coffee
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ice water
For the Chocolate Whipped Cream:
1 small container heavy whipping cream (1/2 pint, or about 1 cup)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions: in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stir the 2/3 cup sugar into the hot coffee, making sure it gets completely dissolved. (If you like things a little less sweet, you may want to use less than the full 2/3cup; if you’re not sure, just taste as you go.) Add the ice water and put in the fridge until cool. If you have some sort of metal container it will cool faster, but otherwise just put it in a shallow plastic container with a lid and, once it’s cooled, put in the freezer. Take it out after 2-3 hours; it should be mostly frozen. Put it in the blender for a couple minutes- it will turn pale and creamy. Pour it back into the container to freeze for another couple hours and then repeat the blending process, putting it back in the freezer again to set.
To make the chocolate whipped cream, pour the cream into a bowl and add 1 tsp sugar. Whip with an electric mixer until soft and billowy, adding the cocoa powder towards the end. Make sure not to overbeat, or the whipped cream will develop a heavy, dense texture. If it is not sweet enough for your taste, you can add a little more sugar. Ditto for the cocoa powder if it doesn’t taste chocolatey enough, but you’re going for something pretty light so don’t overdo it.
Serve the granita in dessert cups with a dollop of whipped cream and a few chocolate-covered espresso beans for garnish, if you have any on hand.