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.
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.
My second day in Portland was just as filled with deliciousness as the first, if not more so. We started out the day with coffee and savory pastries at Crema, a coffee shop/bakery near Kathy’s house. Their black coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had, and I had a difficult time choosing between all the wonderful-looking offerings. I ended up with a manchego-mushroom biscuit that was somewhat like a scone; Kathy had some kind of flaky turnover filled with eggs & veggies. Apparently on the weekends, the line goes out the door, and for good reason. We were there on a Friday morning and it was pretty full but we got a table. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera battery charged when we were there, but I popped back in later that day to snap a couple pics of their delectable-looking baked goods.
After we were sufficiently caffeinated, we decided to do some shopping in SE Portland, on SE Hawthorne St. The neighborhood is a mix of trendy independent boutiques, a couple (inter)national shops like American Apparel, and lots of reasonably-priced restaurants. We decided to re-fuel
at the Cup & Saucer, a cute little diner-style place serving mostly soups and sandwiches. The food wasn’t anything “amazing”, just your standard stuff, but our BLT and Turkey Chili hit the spot after a morning of walking around, and between the staff and the customers, it was a good place to sit and people-watch.
Next on the agenda was Portland Wine Merchants, a little wine shop tucked on a side street just off Hawthorne and run by an old neighbor of Kathy’s. Although there were definitely some pricey options in the shop, the focus seemeed to be on great wines in the $10-to-$20 range. The owner was really helpful and the store had such a nice ambience that I wanted to linger there even after we had made our selections (a Pinot Noir for Kathy, and a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio for me, to go with the potstickers we were planning on making for dinner).
Our last stop for the day was at Zupan’s Market, an upscale grocery store, for ingredients for that night’s dinner. We picked up seafood and pork for our potstickers, and kale for a side dish. At that point it was getting late in the afternoon so we headed home to get organized for our evening of cooking. Very soon (I promise!) I will be posting Kathy’s mom’s potsticker recipe as well as my recipe for “Chinese-style” kale…