Long Island, New York

November 2009

Standing in front of the basement refrigerator at 6:50 AM is not exactly my idea of a good time but there I was once again trying to think of some ideas for dinner.  In case anyone is wondering why I was in front of the basement fridge and not the kitchen fridge is pretty much a no-brainer.  The basement fridge is twice the size of the fridge in the kitchen.  Yes, it’s older but it works better than our upscale stainless steel one upstairs and it’s where we keep everything we want to eat “later.”

Open freezer and find the usual suspects: whole chickens, chicken thighs, chicken breasts and even chicken cutlets that I cut up myself last week from chicken breasts that were on sale ($1.09 a pound!).  (If you check out the Chicken Again articles (one and two ) you’ll see my freezer contents (unfortunately) don’t vary much from week to week.) Also to gaze at that morning was a container of chicken livers, assorted containers filled with both homemade beef and chicken stock, three packages of London broil, fresh linguine, cheese ravioli and eggroll wrappers.

Um. Rachel had chicken the night before and I wasn’t up to making pot roast with the London broil (it would take too long) so that left me with my only other option: food shopping after work.

I remembered that Rachel had been hounding me lately to do an old school shrimp scampi dish (lots of butter, garlic, fresh parsley) with fresh baguette to mop it all up.  Truth be told, I was getting a bit bored with shrimp but wanted to humor her.  I started thinking maybe I’d do a new version of Surf and Turf (if that was possible) substituting shrimp with the usual frozen lobster tail.

In 1976 when we would be granted “home leave” from our extended stay in Munich (i.e., ten years) and return to the New York area, there wasn’t enough Surf and Turf for the month we were back in the States to satisfy our craving.  Surf and Turf simply wasn’t to be had back then in any Munich restaurant – both the Turf (steak) being prohibitively expensive and ultimately not that good and the Surf (lobster) being a delicacy that only appeared on a few upscale restaurant menus.  Back in New York however at classic “continental-food type restaurants” (sigh, how far we’ve come!), Surf and Turf was always a reliable (if somewhat expensive option) even back then.  It was a dish that would never disappoint and always came with the same accompaniments: an iceberg salad to start with your choice of dressing (I usually chose blue cheese) followed by a lobster tail with a ramekin of melted butter and a lemon wedge sitting next to a filet mignon. Sometimes you had a choice of the size of the filet – either the “petite” (i.e., “ladies cut”) thinking women wanted to have smaller portions than the guys (not) and usually a few bucks cheaper or the regular sized portion.  A baked potato with butter and sour cream was inevitably the starch of choice although sometimes rice pilaf or mashed potatoes or steak fries were sometimes offered.

Surf and Turf 2009 however would have to be kicked up a notch.  So I went food shopping after work and decided to substitute the invariably frozen and tasteless and expensive lobster tail for shrimp.  I picked up a pound of jumbo shrimp (from the U.S. no less not Thailand, Ecuador or India) at the very sweet price of $6.99 a pound.  I then headed over to the meat department and picked up four small filets for under $10.00.  Also picked up some baguette (to mop up butter sauce in the “Surf” dish), some baby spinach and an awesome piece of Pont l’Eveque (similar to a Brie but smoother and creamier and a lot tastier.)  I drove home and realized I still had a dilemma.  Did I need a carb and/or starch with the Surf and Turf? (Besides the baguette?)  I thought about old school baked potatoes and sighed.  We’d been eating an awful lot of pasta lately so I wanted to avoid that at all costs.  Rice with surf and turf?  BORING.

Rummaging around the upstairs fridge I came across some leeks.  How about a warm potato leek soup as a first course?  I quickly washed and cut up the potatoes and put them in a pot of boiling water.  I then washed and sliced the leeks, threw them in another pan with a lot of butter and began sautéing them. Meanwhile, I cleaned the shrimp (yep, I usually always clean them myself) and then washed the spinach.  I also found some dried cranberries in the fridge, dug out a pear from the fruit basket and found some walnuts in the pantry by the bars of baking chocolate.  Walnuts got put in the oven to toast for a bit, pear got sliced up and a few wedges of lime were squeezed over the slices so they wouldn’t get brown.  Potatoes were done so I drained them and added them to the leeks, poured in a container of homemade chicken stock, added some milk, lots of salt and pepper and put the whole thing in the food processor. With a few rotations, I had a perfectly pureed potato and leek soup which I put back in the pot to slowly heat up, adding a tad more milk to thin it out.

Next up: the salad.  I dried the spinach leaves, tossed them with some homemade honey mustard vinaigrette then arranged them on a big plate.  Slices of pear were placed, walnuts from the oven (now slightly toasted) were tossed on top along with some of the dried cranberries.  I cut slices of the Pont l’Eveque and laid them on top.  Yummy.

I started thinking about the steaks and realized a couple of roasted tomatoes would be a nice accompaniment.  I hate to put tomatoes in the oven that actually taste like tomatoes (very rare these days) but I the only tomatoes I had in the fridge were some campari ones, so I sliced them in half, drizzled them with olive oil and some dried dill and parsley and put them in the oven to roast for a bit.  

I opened the package of steaks, dried them on some paper towel and set them aside waiting for the grill pan to get sizzling hot.  Meanwhile, I cut up a few cloves of garlic and threw them in a pan with some olive oil and more butter (isn’t butter great?) adding the cleaned shrimp to the pan as everything was cooking.

Steaks went on the grill pan and salt and pepper were added. I opened a really good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  I sliced the baguette.  I set the table and lit the candles.  The steaks were ready to be flipped.  I took the by now roasted tomatoes out of the oven. Salad went out to the table, wine was poured, soup was ladled into soup bowls.  Steaks were ready, but before they were plated, a good dollop of butter and a generous splash of the aforementioned Cab was added to the pan and poured on top of the meat.

Rachel devoured her soup, moved on to the salad, spreading the cheese on the baguette, helped herself to a steak, took a generous portion of the shrimp scampi, mopped up the butter and garlic sauce with more baguette and occasionally would come up for air.

Her father and I looked at her in amusement but then he winked at me and said.

“This is really good.”

“Thank you.”

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