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May 2014

How Many People Does it Take to Grill Flank Steak?

The good news for my family is that I'm better at barbecuing than I am at fixing cars. Once, when I was a boy, I tried to check the oil on my mother’s Chevrolet Chevette, the sorriest excuse for a subcompact every invented. I managed to get the dipstick out, but I couldn’t get it back in. My parents had to call a mechanic friend to come over and fix it, and I felt ridiculous. 

The Chevette is long gone but yesterday, I was back where it was once parked, standing in my mother’s driveway, grilling flank steak for her, my family, and my brother’s extended family. It was an afternoon of bike riding, baseball, and conversation. My brother and his wife have a four year old and an almost one year old. I remember those days of exhaustion well (the time of "Fly Sky High Kale Salad), and it was a treat to see them.

Cara Nicoletti's recent post on Food52 inspired my choice of flank steak. Despite the article's suggestions, my butcher had never heard of a Jaccard knife, but it didn’t seem to need any more tenderizing. I even skipped the marinate after reading this Serious Eats article, and just salted it heavily before cooking. 


I let it sit out about a half hour before cooking, to bring it up to room temperature. Note the grain on this photo. It is easy to see on a flank steak, and when you cut to serve it, you want to be certain to cut across the grain. “On the bias,” as my mother said, to which the women at the table replied “That’s a flattering cut.” I had no idea what they were talking about, but I’m used to feeling that way around women.

I lit the charcoals with a chimney starter. If you don’t know how to use one, this YouTube video explains it well. If your dining partners start giving you advice on how to proceed, you can refer them to it.


Once the starter has done its job, I dumped the hot coals out onto the grate and then added more coals to get a super-hot fire. After they ashes over, I grilled the meat.


I did it three minutes on the first side, and then two on the second. Flank steak cooks quickly, and it has to be watched carefully. An overcooked flank steak will taste about as good as a radial tire off an old Chevette. 

Your best friend when cooking meat is an instant-read meat thermometer, and I used one yesterday. I wanted the meat to get to 125 degrees for rare. I did that and then let the meat sit for about five minutes before cutting it up, across the grain. A few of the thicker pieces were too rare, and I had to throw them back on the grill to get them cooked properly, but no professionals had to be called in and the evening was a huge success. 


I served it with chimichurri sauce, and there wasn’t much left at the end of the meal. Here's the recipe for the chimichurri sauce:

Chimichurri Sauce 

  • 1 bunch (about a cup) fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
  • ½  cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • A shake of red pepper flakes (about a ¼ teaspoon, or to taste)

Chop the parsley as fine as possible.

Dice the garlic.

Combine with the other ingredients, and let sit while you cook the steaks. 


Always Hungry? Here's Why


I’m on my way back from my first trip to BlogHer Food, and I feel a bit like Alice after going down the rabbit hole. It was a mad-hatted tea-party of blogging tips, brand representatives, and cocktail parties. I connected with many fine and passionate folks and I’ll have more thoughts on food blogging in a later post. In the meantime, I want to call everyone’s attention to article in today's New York Times, “Always Hungry? Here’s Why.”

As someone who is often hungry, the title seized me immediately. I learned that caloric restriction may not be having the effect on our bodies that we thought (although the notion that dieting doesn’t work isn’t really news, of course). It may be, however, that the failure has less to do with portion control or willpower and more to do with what we are eating.

As it turns out, many biological factors affect the storage of calories in fat cells, including genetics, levels of physical activity, sleep and stress. But one has an indisputably dominant role: the hormone insulin. We know that excess insulin treatment for diabetes causes weight gain, and insulin deficiency causes weight loss. And of everything we eat, highly refined and rapidly digestible carbohydrates produce the most insulin.

During a conference panel with Christy Denny, of The Girl Who Ate Everything, Julie Deily, of The Little Kitchen, and Amanda Rettke, of I Am Baker, the overhead screen displayed three of their most popular images on Pinterest: savory ham and cheese sliders, a spectacular cake, and an enticing sandwich. One of the panelists observed that all three dishes involved carbohydrates. “People might not like to eat carbs, but they sure like to look at them,” she said. The appeal of home baked goods is universal, but dishes like these aren't the problem. It’s something else:

One reason we consume so many refined carbohydrates today is because they have been added to processed foods in place of fats — which have been the main target of calorie reduction efforts since the 1970s. Fat has about twice the calories of carbohydrates, but low-fat diets are the least effective of comparable interventions, according to several analyses, including one presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association this year.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with with weight, but I have had problems with always feeling hungry. I usually get plenty of protein and other healthy calories, but I’ve learned that to feel full I need to add fat to my diet. So I make sure I have avocado slices with my lunch, a few olives, or a small bag of potato chips. Otherwise I don’t feel satisfied, no matter how much I eat. I post this here to encourage all of us to think carefully about what we eat and how it makes us feel. And then study it some more: 

If this hypothesis turns out to be correct, it will have immediate implications for public health. It would mean that the decades-long focus on calorie restriction was destined to fail for most people. Information about calorie content would remain relevant, not as a strategy for weight loss, but rather to help people avoid eating too much highly processed food loaded with rapidly digesting carbohydrates.

What have you noticed about your diet and its effect on your hunger level? Have you ever thought of adding fat to your diet to stay a healthy weight?

The Biology of Baking: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie


Remember photosynthesis—the process of plants turning the carbon dioxide into oxygen? Trees take the carbon we exhale and fashion it into trunks and branches. Our breath literally becomes something physical, standing there in the forest, waving its leaves in the breeze. Raising kids works much the same way. As I exhale, they grow. Sometimes, I think I can see Nina and Pinta getting taller as I sigh. I’m not saying that they are sucking the life out of me. No, not at all. Quite the contrary. Like the trees give us oxygen, they return love, and who can live without that?

But all this energy transfer leaves little time for the other things we used to do, like have a life. I’m not complaining, just observing, because one thing I’ve also noticed is that this often leads to disagreements—or so I’ve been told—about who is doing what around the house. I’m not saying I have any direct experience with these matters, but I’ve learned that when kids are growing up and two parents are working, everyone can feel like they’re doing too much. It’s as natural as photosynthesis itself.

According to older and wiser married folks, the solution is for each person to contribute 100% and forget about keeping track. That sounds good, but it is human nature to want things to be fair—at least according to my children (do yours do that?). Also, try as I might, there are just some things that I can’t do, such as baking.

I’d done a little baking—I make a fine cornbread (thanks to Sam Sifton) and I've had fun making pound cake—but cookies, cakes, and pies, are as confusing to me as organic chemistry. Santa Maria, on the other hand, loves to bake, and when she’s not buried under her work and domestic tasks, she takes to the oven. Actually, even when she is saddled with a a big work load, she will bake something, be it Hurricane-Watch Oatmeal Cookies, light and sweat Banana Bread, or a killer Almond Torte.

Rhubarb is in season now, and the other day I came home to a sweet and enticing scent, and there on the stove was a lattice-topped strawberry-rhubarb pie. Here’s her recipe. Note the sugar content. She likes her pies like she likes her men—tart.

Santa Maria’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Lattice Crust

  • -2 1/2 cups rhubarb (trimmed and cut into 1” chunks)
  • -2 ½ cups strawberries (hulled and sliced)
  • -3/4 cup sugar
  • -juice of ½ lemon
  • -1/4 cup tapioca

Trim and mix fruit with sugar and tapioca.  Let fruit mixture sit half an hour while you prepare the pie dough and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  This is important so that you do not have hard little pellets of tapioca in your finished pie. 

For the Crust

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • Plus 1 tablespoon sugar

Mix flour and salt.  Cut butter into the flour, until the largest butter lumps are the size of peas.  Slowly add ice water/vinegar mixture a tablespoon at a time and press the mixture together until it sticks together.  Wrap the dough in two separate bundles in wax paper.  Touch it as little as possible so your hands won’t melt the butter.  The lumps of butter within the flour are what create a flaky pie crust.  Stay at Stove Dad’s sister Eileen is the master of this delicate process.

Sprinkle flour on the counter. Press one ball of dough down on the counter. Roll it out with a pin until it’s just a few millimeters thick. 

Turn an 8 or 9 inch pie pan upside down, and place it on the rolled-out crust. Using your hands and/or a spatula, turn the pie pan and the crust over, so the crust is inside the bottom of the pan. With your fingers, press the crust into the bottom of the pan gently, and then use a sharp knife to trim any excess that might be hanging over the edge of the pie pan.

Fill the pie pan with the fruit mixture.

Roll out the other ball and cut the dough into half-inch or so strips. Weave a lattice crust over the top of the fruit mixture. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of sugar.

Depending on how deep your pie pan is, you may have extra fruit and or crust with which you can make delightful little tarts!  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake another 20-35 minutes until your crust is golden and the ruby fruit bubbling through the lattice crust.

Serve with a glass of cold milk (or, for an extra treat, vanilla ice cream).

Note: I like my pies tart, so you will notice this has less than half the sugar of many fruit pies.

Pan-Crepes, a Limited Time Offer


It feels like just yesterday that I was pushing my girls in a stroller on the weekends, and now I can’t catch them while playing tag in the park. Before I know it, they will be out of the house—in college, out on their own, off to seek adventure—and I will be back to cooking just for Santa Maria and myself. I know that my time in the kitchen is limited.

On the other hand…

It also feels, on some days, that I’ll never get out of the kitchen: Breakfast, lunch, dinner—they all add up. I know I’m not alone in feeling this. Santa Maria often reminds me that she’s the one putting dinner on the table the nights I’m working late. And I met a fellow over the weekend with two kids and who works from home. He makes the breakfasts and dinners and he said to me, “My wife told me she has no life. We have no life,” referring to how much time they spend tending to domestic tasks.

And in the meantime…

My children are doing more and more in the kitchen. Just tonight, Nina made up her own way of chopping tomatoes. She prefers to do that rather than set the table (the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree). For her part, Pinta, my little one, has created a new way to eat pancakes.

Pancakes are a weekend treat around our house. I make them from scratch, and once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll find it’s as easy as opening a box of mix. I used to separate and beat the egg whites, to make them supper fluffy, but as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more tired, I’ve started cutting back. I’ve learned an easier way to make them.

The trick is to do less, not more. This is also useful when discussing problematic issues with one’s spouse. Take it easy. Don’t mix the batter too much. Let it sit, full of lumps. Just as time heals all wounds, if you let the batter rest about ten minutes or twenty, it will turn out much better. And if you take a break when talking over hard issues with your spouse, it can be much more productive to return to them later, after everyone has cooled down.

These days, I thin the batter with extra milk, and make giant, crepe-like pancakes. I do this by putting a spoonful of batter in the middle of the hot, buttered, frying pan, and then tipping the pan back and forth so the batter spreads out in a circular fashion as much as it can.



Once it is spread out, I flip it and cook it like a normal pancake:


Nina and Pinta eat their pan-crepes with cinnamon sugar, and Pinta has taken to rolling hers up and then cutting it crossways, and making wee Rugelach-like bites. This is the fun part of cooking for yourself and the family, seeing how they enoy the food. It makes all the time in the kitchen worthwhile.


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk, plus additional milk
  • 2 eggs,slightly beaten
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the dry ingredients with a fork, and mix well
Combine the eggs, the milk, and the butter.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir with spoon until combined, but not too much. It’s fine to leave lumps. Let sit ten to twenty minutes if possible (but not absolutely necessary).

Look at the batter. If it is thick, thin it out a bit with some extra milk. I don’t have a hard and fast rule for this.

Once the batter is thin and runny, spoon a bit into a large, hot and buttered frying pan, and tip the pan back and forth (being careful not to burn yourself) until the batter covers as much as the pan as possible.

As soon as bubbles start to appear, flip and cook through on the other side.

Serve with warm maple syrup or cinnamon sugar, as you please.