The women in my family suffer from a terrible curse. We don’t sprout fangs and fur at the full moon, but a little extra hair might be preferable to this burden:
We have timing issues with special meals. “First world problems,” you might scoff, and you’d be right. But when you’re planning a fancy dinner, timing is almost as important as taste! The night my mom first cooked for my dad and his family, the rice took so long to cook that they went out for a walk in between courses. In my case, the special dessert I had been planning refused to set, and so it’s been sulking in the fridge all day today. Luckily, I had just read a recipe for a One Bowl Chocolate Pudding Cake, which took minutes to mix and only half an hour to bake, so the evening ended on a sweet note after all.
Dessert issues aside, last night I was given a wonderful gift– better than sushi, more precious to me than rare jewels or a set of really good chef’s knives. My husband elect said just one simple sentence: “that was the best steak I’ve ever eaten.” And he meant it, too. But before you protest that I just preached about making healthier choices, let me note that I didn’t just cook steak.
I cooked bison!
Although I don’t eat meat (other than fish), I’m very interested in new and exotic food sources. There’s a restaurant in our neighborhood that serves elk, bison, and ostrich, and choosing these lean proteins (less fat and cholesterol) can be one way to have your meat and eat it, too.
I bought this filet from the friendly folks at Elk Trails Bison Farm, who sell at the Union Square Greenmarket. They certainly know their bison, and with good reason– they’ve been raising herds in Susquenhanna County, PA since 1985. The gentleman behind the counter confirmed that their Bison is free-range and grass-fed, and they use no antibiotics; he also gave me some cooking tips, which I followed to the letter.
With the turf taken care of, I turned to thinking of surf. Lobster is the obvious special occasion equivalent, but it’s not actually my favorite. I’m much more of a scallop fan– they’re perfect little bite-sized morsels of protein, not to mention quick and simple to cook. And when you’re planning a special meal for a weeknight, there’s no shame in keeping it simple.
Since our entrees were so simple, I kept the side dishes pretty low key, too: sauteed spinach with lots of garlic (it’s okay as long as both parties have garlic breath) and roasted [baby] carrots. I had completely forgotten to pick up carrots this week, so I resorted to using the baby carrots I usually bring to work to eat with some hummus! Shameful, I know. Luckily, the bison was so good that my baby carrot faux pas went unnoticed.
The neat thing about bison is how quickly it defrosts. The packet of steaks I bought were frozen, so I asked how I would go about bringing one out of deep freeze. “An hour before you want to cook it, place the steak in two layers of plastic bags,” I was told, “then put that in a bowl of cool water and it’ll soften right up.” It worked!
One note when cooking bison: because the fat content is so low, you need to be careful not to let the meat dry out/get tough. It’s actually better to cook the steak slowly over low heat (or “low and slow,” as they say in the biz) rather than sear fast in a really hot pan.
Bison Filet Mignon
1 bison steak, roughly 8 oz.
Salt and pepper
Rinse the steak under cool water, then pat dry. Rub with some olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over low heat, melt some butter into the pan, and add the steak. Cook on one side for 8 minutes, until a nice crust forms. Flip and cook an additional 8 minutes. Remove from heat and place steak on a plate; cover with foil and let rest 5-10 minutes. Add the juices back to the pan and reduce over low heat, then drizzle the sauce over the steak for added juiciness. You can flavor this liquid with wine or broth, or use it to cook mushrooms, onions, garlic, or anything that comes to mind. I kept it fairly plain to focus on the flavor of the meat.
Seared sea scallops
1/2 lb. sea scallops
Olive oil and butter
Salt and pepper
Rinse the scallops in cool water and pat dry. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the oil and a dab of butter; once the oil spatters when a few drops of water are flicked in, add the scallops. Grate some pepper and salt over the scallops, then resist the temptation to move them around in the pan. They need to develop a nicely caramelized seared top! Scallops vary in size, so cooking time may not be uniform. Cook for 2 minutes, then gently peek under the edge of the scallops to see if they need to be flipped. If the scallop’s underside is nicely browned, it’s time to turn it over. Flip, cook for another minute, then serve immediately. They should still be slightly translucent in the middle.
6 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds (or one bag of baby carrots)
1 Tb. olive oil
1/4 c. apple cider
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350. Toss the carrots with the olive oil, cider, and spices. Spread in a single layer and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning carrots over halfway through for even cooking. Carrots should be fork-tender.
I’d love to go out on a high note with the elaborate dessert I made up, but it’s currently being a prima donna. I’ll try to update later, or maybe give it its own post tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you ate and/or cooked for your Valentine’s dinner!