Steak & fries (and fires)

It’s finally Monday night and time for dinner. The soup and dessert are mostly completed, leaving the meat of the meal to be done. The entree for tonight is a very down to earth, “meat-and-potatoes” (as TK says), dish: Flatiron Steak with Herb Butter and French Fries. The steak and fries are a good combination cooking-wise because the steak is relatively hands-off, while the fries will take significant prep time. So the fries (Pommes Frites in Bouchon) were the first dish I started on.

To begin, you want large russet potatoes, washed, peeled, then sliced into 1/4″ sticks. I don’t have many gadgets in my kitchen, so don’t have a potato cutter or a fancy food processor to cut the fries. That meant I’d be using an old-fashioned knife to do the cutting. It was a slightly daunting job since slicing potatoes so thinly takes some finesse. Before I started, I filled a big bowl with water to hold the cut potatoes. Putting potatoes in water keeps them from turning black like potatoes tend do once you cut them.

To cut the fries, first you have to trim the rounded sides from the potatoes so they’ll sit on your cutting board without rolling around, and so each fry is uniform:

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It’s never too early for dessert

Sleeping is one of my favorite things, on par with or even above good food. There are few reasons I would sacrifice my full night of sleep. Apparently having a good dessert for my friends is one such reason, though, because I got up earlier than I wanted to make the evening’s Tarte Tatin. This is a somewhat complicated dessert with a high chance of failure, largely because of one risky step that you’ll see shortly. I’ve actually tried this once before and can’t say it was a complete failure, but it definitely wasn’t a resounding success. This time I’m feeling less intimidated by the dish, and here’s why — I was looking up tarte tatin pans and happened across the history of the Tarte Tatin. Supposedly it came about when a certain Stephanie Tatin was caramelizing apples on the stove for an apple pie, realized she had cooked them too long, so salvaged the pie by quickly put her crust over the apples and putting the pan in the oven. People loved the dish, and thus the Tarte Tatin was born. Somehow knowing that 1) the tarte was the result of a mistake, and 2) it’s basically just an upside down apple pie, makes making it seem more within reach.

The recipe itself is fairly simple. You caramelize apples in butter and sugar, cover it with a crust, then bake. Simple as it sounds, it’s not easy. The real hands-on work this morning was peeling and coring a lot of apples. TK says to peel 9-10 Golden Delicious apples, but since I wasn’t positive I would need them all, I started by just peeling 5 because I didn’t want apples sitting there turning brown. After the apples are peeled, you put some sugar and butter in a skillet and arrange the apple halves in a circle like so:

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Butters, nuts & sage

It’s 9 o’clock, Sunday night, at the end of a full weekend. My day started two states away where I was visiting family, which is always enough to keep me smiling for days. Then I drove home and met up with a friend who luck had connected me with a few months earlier. As part of our medical school training, we rotate through all of the main areas of medicine for at least a month each, from surgery to pediatrics and so on. Most of the rotations are at one of our local hospitals, but for our family medicine rotation, some of us get scattered across the state to get a different view of medicine. I ended up at a place 2+ hours from home and by chance was paired with a roommate who could have been my long-lost sister. She was a medical student from a different school and we bonded immediately over important things like the temperature of our apartment to reading Bon Appetit regularly. She loved food just as much as I do, and most nights we would cook up delicious dinners together with whatever we could scrounge up from our fridge. Since she lives a couple hours from me, I was excited when she told me she’d be in town and made sure to see her. As expected, catching up was wonderful.

After dinner, I hopped over to say bye to a classmate who’s moving away, then finally made it home. I’m tired and want to climb into bed, but am heading for the kitchen instead. Friends are coming over tomorrow night for a home-cooked Bouchon meal and I need to start on the first course — Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage, and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche. According to the recipe, the soup is best made 24 hours ahead of time because it will give the flavors time to develop, so here I am in my kitchen instead of my bed.

butternut drawingI open up Bouchon and dive in. Step 1: take a large butternut squash and separate the neck from the bulb (see my masterpiece to the left). We’re dividing the squash into two parts in order to prepare it two different ways — roasted and simmered — which will add more complexity to the soup’s flavor. First, you cut the bulb in half, scrape out the seeds, rub each half with some oil and stuff in a couple of fresh sage leaves, then put both halves in the oven at 350F for about an hour.

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Before we start cooking…

Before I really get started with the cooking, I want to be sure to address a couple important details: 1) my dinner guests, 2) how I plan my meals, and 3) my cooking companion.

When I started this project, I knew I needed reliable dinner guests if I was going to keep cooking week after week. Luckily two of my best friends are always up for a good meal, so I booked one night per week from here on out. They’re two of my all-time favorite people and together they never cease to amuse me. This Heart and Brain comic captures their relationship better than anything I could put into words myself:

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Hi, I’m Sara

First things first, I should probably introduce myself and talk about what I’m doing here. In my real life I’m a full-time medical student and part-time home cook. As I’m about to explain, my main reasons for writing this blog are to 1) encourage people to spend more time in the kitchen and 2) give myself a break from school.

I was raised to appreciate food, the fact that it’s essential to life, and that it should taste good and be nutritious. Growing up, mealtime was always important — my parents made sure there was a full, healthy spread of food on the table at every meal, and we always sat down to eat as a family. Us kids started loving food when we were quite young and our favorite game soon became “Restaurant”. We would prepare full meals, our parents would graciously eat whatever we made no matter how bad it was, and then they would even more graciously clean up the enormous mess we unfailingly left in the kitchen. There were lots of near-disasters as we figured out our way around the kitchen: counter tops were burned, food ended up on ceilings, smoke detectors were triggered, etc. It took years to work out a lot of kinks, but now we all feel completely at home in the kitchen. Even now that my siblings and I are adults scattered across the country, we still love to convene in the kitchen whenever we’re together. And our meals have become a bit more sophisticated over the years:

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