“Remember to Replace the Onion”

In most other households, that would be a rather odd note. Which onion? A decorative item that got broken? An edible onion?

At RedQuarters, where most non-bread recipes seem to begin with “First sauté an onion,” it means that someone sauteed the onion and more need to be purchased. Somehow, we always end up with one onion that lingers down in the corner of the “mixed containers mostly Tupperware but not entirely” drawer. Which is where everyone stores onions, right?

I once asked DadRed why everything started with olive oil, a pan, and an onion. “Because that buys time to decide on the meat and what else goes with it.”

Not entirely true, but valid for about 60% of the time. Unless I’m cooking. I prefer dried, minced onion because I react strongly to strong onions, which are about the only kind available around here. There are sweet onions, strong white onions, weaponized yellow onions, and red onions that come in protective shielding and probably ought to have a hazmat label on them.

(If I’m every dining with you, and something comes with red onions despite my begging to have them omitted, you can have mine. Please. Pretty please.)

Thus the note. And you know what will happen. Three or more onions appear in the drawer, because each member of the family gets one onion (or perhaps two) on the way home from work or errands. Usually white onions. The yellow onions have been of such variable quality that RedQuarters tends to stick with the known evil.

It’s a good thing that “first, sauté an onion” happens so often. Occasionally I will caramelize an onion. I’m the only one who cooks fancy stuff most of the time, so caramelizing is my job. That and I’m patient enough to stand there watching, watching, watching, stirring, stirring, stirring . . . for a while. It’s a bit like making a real risotto, except you can’t read while you do onions. Yes, while in grad school I read while making risotto. I never read while browning butter or making a roux. Those change too quickly from raw to “dang it. A charcoal suspension.”

So, I need to replace an onion. Perhaps two. But certainly one.


Smoking (Meat) In the House?

It was, in my opinion, a fad that didn’t die soon enough. The Good Idea fairy should have been strangled before she ever opened her mouth and said, “You know, I bet there’s a way to do that without a big outdoor smoker thing, and cheaper!”

I think it started with planked fish and in-restaurant smoker sorts of things. Planked fish sort of made sense, because it did not produce smoke. You took a piece of the proper wood, slightly larger than your piece of fish, and soaked the wood in water. You put whatever spices you wanted on your fish fillet, then set the fillet on the plank. Plank and fillet then went into the oven, usually on a rack with a drip-pan under them, and cooked. The idea was that the fillet picked up flavor from the plank and stayed moist because of the damp wood. The wood did not catch fire or char. I don’t know if this is still done at home, but it seemed trendy for a while. I never tried it. Buying expensive wood just to cook a piece of fish on . . . Not my sort of cooking thing. And DadRed would probably have turned the plank into trim on a project, with a carving on it.

Planked fish (not to be confused with South African planked fruit, which is a type of dried fruit a bit like a thick and sturdy fruit-leather), at least had the virtue of not smoking up the place if done correctly. The stove-top smokers, however . . . What works in a commercial kitchen with lots and lots of high-power ventilation is not so good in a house or apartment, especially when you live in a place that requires smoke detectors that call for help.

The idea is that you have a pan with woodchips or sawdust, a drip-catcher that allows smoke to flow around it, the mesh grill upon which the meat rests, and then a lid (or make a foil tent for larger things). The smoker works like a big outdoor smoker, although it seems to work at a slightly higher temperature. The smoke flows around the meat and does its thing, flavoring and cooking the meat. Some versions have their own heat source, others sit on a burner on your stove. The ratings vary from “I love it” to “don’t try this indoors in a small apartment.” I’d incline to the latter, but I have serious doubts about charring materials in a steel pan or box on my stovetop. Apparently it works well for many users. I only see the down sides, including cleaning the smoke off of every surface in the kitchen. There are lots of surfaces in my kitchen.

One thing I probably should mention if you are inclined to cook brisket in a smoker. Check the size of the brisket in the instructions. Down here, brisket is assumed to be between 8-14 pounds, although I’ve seen 20 lb monsters and larger. (One of the guys said, after we wrestled the beast into the smoker, “Well, we know what happened to Babe the Blue Ox.”) Back east, especially in the northeast, briskets tend to be no larger than 1-3 pounds. You have to specially request a larger brisket. I had no idea of this until reading a thread on-line about ruining briskets and the young lady could not figure out what the problem was. People went over the rub, the cooking time and temp, and finally someone asked how large the brisket was. “A pound and a half.” No wonder she ended up with a lump of charcoal instead of a tender brisket! That was the largest to be found in the NY-NJ area grocery stores. This might be changing, but do check the size of your meat.

Tuna Steak

I walked into the kitchen and beheld a slab-o-meat. It appeared somewhat like a large pork chop, without the little fat rind. And was pink-white instead of pork colored. Not pork, but Chicken-of-the-Sea, aka tuna. A large (on sale) tuna steak had followed Dad home from the market.

So, what to do with said tuna? Oil it lightly, season it lightly, and cook seemed to be the order of the day. However, the cooking instructions ranged from “we don’t own one of those” to “that might be a little excessive.” The steak was only about half an inch thick, and some of the cook book steaks were two inches thick. A compromise seemed to be in order.

Oven – 400 F.

Marinade – olive oil, garlic pepper, crushed garlic (1/4 tsp or so. Not much, in other words), two dribbles of lemon juice (enough for a little flavor, but not enough to pre-cook the tuna).

  1. Line a baking sheet with foil. This is mostly for ease of clean-up.
  2. Blend ingredients for marinade. I used about 1/3 cup oil, a few shakes of garlic pepper, a small dollop of minced fresh garlic, and a little citrus juice. Looking back, I’d skip the garlic pepper and use flavored olive oil instead, with lime as my citrus. Or skip the citrus and use some basil as the herb.
  3. Brush both sides of the meat with the marinade, then put the steak(s) on the baking sheet and let rest on the counter at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, or longer if your meat is thicker. This lets the meat warm a little, as well as flavoring. Just before I put it in the oven, I drizzled the rest of the marinade on the tuna, making sure to lift the steak and get oil under it. [Ease of clean-up and serving].
  4. Bake at 400 F for about ten minutes, or until the temperature is at least 145F on a meat thermometer. Ideally, the fish will flake easily but still be pink. Because of some family medical concerns, this tuna got cooked to medium (white all the way through). It was still flaky but a little firm. Some instructions want the tuna to be 160 F inside, which is far too over-cooked. It starts getting tough and rubbery.
  5. Serve with the vegetable of your choice.

Tuna steaks can also be broiled (3-4 minutes) or baked at 450 F (four to five minutes). If you have a fish-basket, they could also be grilled, but I’d go with a thicker piece of meat than we had if you want to try that option.

Baked Steak

Dad Red got a gift certificate to a local butcher shop for Christmas. Last week he came home with a lovely shoulder roast and a slab-o-steak. We’re talking a beautiful piece of meat, large, marbled, and in need of cooking. Which poses a bit of a problem. Redquarters does not have a grill, and one does NOT nuke’ steak.

So we baked it. Continue reading