Dinner at Home
Family favorites home for holidays
Flank steak is stuffed and elevated
Holiday favorite: This recipe makes nearly as regal a presentation as beef tenderloin, at a fraction of the cost. Flank steak, a lean, beefy-tasting cut, freezes well if properly wrapped. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
My high school-age nephews can master nearly any chocolate recipe they encounter, and the nieces embrace all manner of candy-making and cake decorating. My offspring enjoy grilling and roasting, and employing my gadgets.
It's good to be in our family. Especially during the holiday season. That's when entertaining favorites such as mom's veal-stuffed and braised flank steak make their annual appearance. The recipe, mom reminds me, entered our repertoire when I worked at a cooking magazine after chef's school. The attractive presentation and rich flavors quickly earned the recipe a place in our box.
This recipe makes nearly as regal a presentation as beef tenderloin, at a fraction of the cost. Flank steak, a lean, beefy-tasting cut, freezes well if properly wrapped, so I buy them when they go on sale. During grilling season, marinades help tenderize the steak destined for hot coals. In cooler months, this slow braise in a flavorful pan sauce renders it tender and toothsome.
The only tricky part to the recipe is cutting a pocket in the meat to hold the veal and herb stuffing. Some cooks butterfly the flank steak and spread the stuffing over the thin meat and then roll it up jellyroll style. The cooked and sliced meat looks like a spiral. Trouble is the interior pieces of steak are not quite as tender as the exterior part of the rollup. So, I prefer to cut a pocket in the steak to hold the stuffing.
I prefer to prepare two smaller steaks because they cook slightly faster than one large steak. More important, the smaller stuffed steaks carve more easily. Of course, the recipe can be cut in half; you'll need to downsize the pot so the stuffed steak braises properly; that is, with the braising liquid about halfway up the sides of the stuffed steak.
For the stuffing, a combination of ground veal, herbs and onion pair beautifully with the steak. In the original recipe, butter-and-oil-toasted bread cubes held the stuffing together. These days, I simply use fresh bread crumbs made from crusty bread — crust included for flavor and texture. I like veal for the stuffing since it has a mild flavor, but ground turkey breast makes a fine substitute. Have the butcher grind it for you or use slightly frozen cubed meat and a food processor with on/off turns.
For the pan gravy, I indulge in two luxury items: broth made from beef demiglace and dried porcini mushrooms. Years ago I spent hours reducing bones and aromatic vegetables into the uber-rich, gelatinous concentrate known as demiglace.
Today, I order small, pricey bottles from the Internet and cherish the hours and cleanup I've saved. Low-sodium beef broth makes a fine substitute. Porcini mushrooms add a beautiful depth of flavor to everything. I find them in small clear pouches in the produce section of large supermarkets. You can use other dried mushrooms, even dried shiitakes, if you wish.
Cutting a pocket
It's relatively simple — you'll need a very sharp knife. Lay the steak flat on your cutting board with the grain of the meat perpendicular to the board. Then hold your knife parallel to the board and make a cut at the right edge of the steak. Keep cutting parallel to the board to make a pocket in the meat with a 1-inch border on the other three sides. Don't worry — it's much easier to actually cut the pocket in the steak than to read the method. (Your butcher can also do it for you.)
Braised stuffed flank steak with porcini tomato sauce
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: You'll want to finely chop the onion and celery for the stuffing so it's easy to work with. Leftover stuffed steak tastes great thinly sliced and served cold on crusty rye bread.
2 beef flank steaks, each about 1 1/4 pounds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground veal
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 small onion, finely chopped, 1/2 cup
1 small rib celery, finely chopped, 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons each, chopped: fresh parsley, chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, plus 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons each: butter, olive oil
1 cup dry red wine, such as pinot noir
2 small carrots, peeled, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
½ ounce dried porcini mushroom pieces
1 cup strong, rich beef broth, made from demiglace if you like
Flat parsley sprigs for garnish
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lay flank steak flat on cutting board. Cut a pocket in the side with a very sharp knife. Season inside of pocket with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.
2. Mix veal, bread crumbs, eggs, half the onion, celery, parsley, chives, chopped thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Fill the pocket with half the mixture. Close the pocket with wooden picks. Use butcher string to tie the steaks in several spots to make compact loaves. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.
3. Heat butter and olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add one stuffed steak; cook, turning, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate. Repeat with second steak.
4. Stir wine into pan. Scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan and reduce the wine, about 2 minutes. Add remaining onion, carrots, tomato, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Add mushrooms and broth; heat to a simmer. Nestle the flank steaks into the pan juices. Cover pan tightly. Put into oven and cook until thermometer inserted in center of roast registers 150 degrees, about 1 hour.
5. Remove flank steak to a cutting board. Tent with foil; let stand 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the pan. Boil the pan sauce to reduce it to the consistency of gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice steak into 1/2-inch wide slices. Serve nestled on top of the pan sauce. Garnish with parsley.
Per serving: 565 calories, 23 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 211 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 63 g protein, 988 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Sage, garlic braised potatoes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Note: I like to use the small multicolored potatoes sold in mesh bags in the produce section.
2 ½ pounds small, thin-skinned red or yellow potatoes
2 cups chicken broth
4 cloves garlic
3 to 4 sprigs fresh sage or ½ teaspoon dried
Salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter, optional
Chopped fresh parsley
1. Cut potatoes in half if they are larger than 1½ inches in diameter. Put into a large saucepan in a single layer. Pour broth over all; add water if needed so potatoes are immersed by about ½ inch of liquid. Add garlic and sage to pan. Heat to a simmer. Cover the pan; simmer over low just until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
2. To serve, tip off the broth. Season the potatoes with salt, pepper and butter, if using. Serve garnished with parsley.
Per serving: 131 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 232 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Pear lime crisp
Prep: 25 minutes Cook: 40 minutes Servings: 8
Note: Use pears that are ripe but still a little firm.
4 large ripe D'Anjou or Bartlett pears, 2 1/2 pounds total
6 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon grated lime zest, removed with a rasp grater
1 ½ cups coarse fresh bread crumbs, made from crusty French bread
3/4 cup low-fat granola with sliced almonds
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Frozen vanilla yogurt or ice cream, optional
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously spray a deep 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray or vegetable oil. Peel, core and cut pears into ½-inch pieces. You should have about 4 generous cups.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer 4 tablespoons of the melted butter to a bowl; set aside.
3. Add pears to remaining butter in skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until tender and pear juices are concentrated, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime zest. Transfer mixture to prepared pie dish.
4. Stir bread crumbs, granola and brown sugar into the melted butter in the bowl. Mix well. Distribute mixture evenly over the pears in the dish.
5. Bake until filling is piping hot and top is golden and crisp, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm topped with frozen yogurt or ice cream.
Per serving (for 8 servings): 274 calories, 10 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 44 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 166 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.