My Sisters Cook…”Meat and Potatoes”

By Theron Hopkins | for the Pioneer Review

How about if we start off by divulging the intense and labyrinthine series of negotiations that occurred to decide the theme for “Week 1”?  Tricia opened up her freezer and found a thick cut of flank steak.  She called Beth, and said, “What do you think?”  Beth walked out to the carport and dug deep in her family’s freezer to discover a chuck roast.  She called Tricia back, and replied, “Sounds good.”  Then they both started to cook Saturday dinner.

“Grilled Flank Steak with Hasselback Potatoes and Summer Squash Gratin”—The driving allure of this dinner was: “It’s pretty simple,” and, “It takes quite a long time to cook.”  The translation here is that Saturday afternoon and evening is the downtime for Tricia and her husband, Mike, during the busy summer months of their Myrtle Beach business.  When you have the time to do next to nothing after you get the potatoes and the gratin in the oven, why not do next to nothing?  There is the Detroit Tigers on the television, the air conditioner in fine working order, the electric bill paid up in full, an ice chest full of cold beverages and copious quantities of crushed ice, and a comfortable couch for two (plus the dog, Coney) that does not get a lot of use during the other six and a half days of the summer work-week.  Tricia used Thomas Keller’s recipe for the gratin (do “the Google”), minus the eggplant and doubling up on the zucchini.  (Why no eggplant?  Mike won’t eat it, unless it is breaded and fried.  But he will eat zucchini.)  The gratin goes for ninety minutes in the oven.  Do you have to relax on the couch, watching baseball and drinking beer during this interval?  No.  But you are welcome to give it a try.  The strategy for the potatoes is eerily similar.  The recipe comes from Ree Drummond (more “Google” time), and it calls for an hour in the oven (more “couch” time?).  Meanwhile (probably one of Tricia’s favorite words), the beef is marinating in fresh garlic, salt, pepper, brown mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, and olive oil; today for four hours.  Eventually, the opportunity arrives for Mike to arise from the couch, step out into the sun and heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer late afternoon, and start a charcoal fire in the back patio Weber kettle grill.  As the squash and potatoes get close to coming out of the oven, the flank steak goes over the hot coals, cooked to medium-rare perfection, rested, and then sliced “against the grain”.  The meal “went well”.  Next time the gratin gets cooked: more salt.  Next time the potatoes get cooked: more salt (In addition to the salt that the recipe adds into the butter mixture, Tricia suggests salting the raw potatoes.).  Also: plenty of leftovers (In our family, we call leftovers “Must-Go”, as in, “Everything must go.”), so this meant a “Hasselback Potato Hash” on Sunday night, when they arrived back home from welcoming a new wave of beach vacationers; and then “Flank Steak Nachos” for Monday’s dinner (By the way: What do nachos do?  That’s right: “They rule!”).

“Dip Sandwiches and ‘Beau’s Famous’ Potato Chips”—Beth did not seek inspiration from the scion of The French Laundry restaurant empire nor follow the teachings of The Food Network’s own “Pioneer Woman”.  Rather, she remembered a meal that she had enjoyed on her last visit to Sulphur Springs, Texas.  It was prepared for Beth and our Aunt Audrey by our cousin, Myra, and, of all the ingredients, the Campbell’s French Onion Soup is the ingredient that Beth must use to make these “Myra’s sandwiches”.  So, please include the soup.  Aside from that, says Beth, “Use what is available in the house.”  For Saturday’s dinner, she placed a two and a half pound chuck roast, along with the soup, beef stock, water, and a beef bouillon cube in the crock pot on high until she could pull the beef apart with kitchen tongs (about eight hours).  The rolls were sliced and piled generously with beef plus cheese, salt, and pepper, and served with a ramekin of the au jus, pepperoncini peppers, and as many of Beau’s potato chips as you would like, which would be “a lot”.  He is a pro at preparing these chips, and the reason that he is so skillful at the process is because Beth and Beau’s three young children are not fans of the humble potato (This is true.  How it could be true is a mystery.), so Beau had the opportunity to demonstrate a man’s real devotion to family by getting up off his couch—where he would have happily remained, watching the NASCAR race—to trudge out into an Imperial Valley summer heat—that makes all other heat seem like sweater weather—and “make chips”.  He has a deep fryer in the backyard that he maneuvers into the shade, fills up with six or so cups of peanut oil, heats to 350 degrees, and then follows the directions below, much to the appreciation of all concerned.

Beau’s Chips for 5:

  • 2 pounds Russet potatoes (peeled or skin on)
  • 6 cups Peanut Oil (or vegetable oil or corn oil)
  • Sea Salt and Pepper
  • With a mandolin, slice all of the potatoes and soak in salted water until time to cook.
  • In a fryer, add 6 cups of oil (take care of it to reuse for the next time to fry) and heat to 325-350 degrees.
  • Divide into thirds and fry so as to not overcrowd the fryer.
  • Remove when golden and transfer to a paper towel-lined platter.
  • Salt and pepper immediately and generously.

Dip Sandwiches:

  • 2-2.5 pounds chuck roast
  • 1 can Campbell’s French Onion soup
  • 2-4 cups beef broth (whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 Beef Bouillon Cube
  • 2-4 cups water to cover the meat
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Hoagie, French, or Bolillo rolls
  • Swiss or cheddar cheese, optional
  • Pepperoncini peppers

And, a “Must-Go” bonus for the leftover beef—“Next Day Machaca” (not strictly “traditional”, but using what is on hand in the house):

  • 1-2 cups leftover dip sandwich meat
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 sweet peppers
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 large handful baby spinach
  • 2-4 eggs whisked
  • Salsa
  • Feta or Cotija cheese
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • In a large skillet preheated to medium high with 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil, add meat and onions, and cook until warm and sizzling.
  • Add peppers, tomatoes, and spinach, and cook until spinach has wilted.
  • Add eggs, and combine.
  • Serve with tortillas, salsa, and cotija cheese.
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