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Monday, August 24, 2009

Weeknight Imitations

Weeknights are always intriguing times for me to cook, since it is last minute, and I enjoy launching into a simple yet appealing meal. When I got home from work the other night, I began digging through the cabinet trying to figure out what would go with the flank steak I had laid out. The weather was nasty outside so it had to be an inside dish. Something that went with the garlic chili paste that I just bought a couple days earlier.

Chili paste reminds me of when Dawn and I began cooking together in her apartment in Pensacola, when we lived in Florida. When we started making sushi, we ventured out to the international market, of which the name escapes me at the moment, to buy some chili paste. We ended up returning with chili paste, barbecued eel for sushi, smoked trout, smoked salmon, as well as a variety of other ingredients that the Egyptian man would always suggest when we rang out. It was a mix between haggling and informative conversation every time you saw him. "You should try this new Bulgarian wine we are carrying, or a French cheese," or in the case of that night smoked trout (which happened to make excellent sushi).

Back to the flank steak, garlic chili paste, and nice plump spaghetti squash that had been sitting on the counter a couple days. I settled on using the spaghetti squash as imitation rice noodles, the flank steak to be grilled on the grill pan, and the garlic chili paste as a sauce for the steak. An imitation meal from the steak to the squash, but it is all in the finished product.

Cast iron is an incredible if not trying tool to work with and one that works impeccably well as a grill pan. Cooking on a well seasoned cast iron skillet or grill pan produces the most mouth watering sear but the most difficult cleaning task sometimes. I heated it to screaming hot with a couple teaspoons of olive oil for lubrication. I seasoned the steak by drizzling a few drops of olive oil on top and rubbed salt, pepper, and smoked paprika onto it. After about three to five minutes per side the steak should be medium rare depending on thickness. Make sure you allow steak to fall to room temperature before slicing to allow the juices to remain in the meat.

The sauce which includes garlic chili paste, soy sauce, honey, salt, pepper, and five spice, is relatively simple to prepare. The ingredients can be combined and allowed to simmer on low while the steak is cooking. The result is the spicy tangy perplexity that make each cook desire to continue tinkering with seasonings and amounts instead of always lackadaisically following a recipe.

The Spaghetti squash is an incredible impostor for rice noodles when roasted in the oven for about 40 minutes after being split in half with the rind side up. This creates a self induced steaming method that keeps the squash moist each and every time. Whether you are stuck inside during inclement weather or have a surplus of ingredients that seem mundane, think outside the box to create an impostor or imitation meal that will oftentimes strike you or your guests as more delectable and daring than the real thing.

Pan Grilled Flank Steak

8-12 oz. Flank Steak
1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil plus 2 T. for pan
1 t. Smoked Paprika

Season steak by drizzling olive oil on steak and rubbing spices into meat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil to grill pan and heat on high until oil just begins to smoke. Cook steak for approximately three to five minutes per side or until it reaches desired doneness.

Chili Garlic Sauce

3 T. Chili Garlic Paste
3 T. Soy Sauce
2 T. Tomato Paste or Ketchup
2 T. Vegetable Oil
2 T. Honey
1 T. Lime juice

Combine ingredients in small saucepan and simmer on low until ingredients are incorporated together and produce desired spicy/tangy combination. More or less garlic chili paste can be added depending on how much heat you prefer.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

1 Spaghetti Squash
3 T. Soy Sauce
2 T. Sesame Oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice spaghetti squash in half and place on oiled baking sheet rind side up. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until squash feels softened. Scoop seeds out and save. Use a fork to rake the strands of squash out into a bowl and combine soy sauce, oil, and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Optional: squash seeds can be roasted in a similar fashion as Pepita or pumpkin seeds in a toaster with olive oil and salt and pepper. They are great in salads or just as a snack.


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