Sunday Supper: Steak with Peppers and Onions in a Balsamic Reduction, Cauliflower Tart, and an Arugula and Fennel Salad

I love Sundays spent slowly cooking as you go about your day.  A little bit of cooking, a little bit of housework, back and forth in a lazy, roundabout sort of way.  This Sunday I really felt like fall foods and this menu matched my cravings.

This cauliflower tart was from a recipe that I’ve been eying on Epicurious.  Creamy and cheesy with caramelized onions and roasted cauliflower, it sounded perfect.  The inside ended up being exactly what I wanted but I didn’t love the crust.  The recipe called for a store-bought pie crust which was too sweet for an already sweet interior.  Next time I will make my own crust.  I’m thinking a savory rosemary crust would be delicious.

The salad was made by my dear friend Teagen who happens to be the salad expert (more about her in another post) and was composed of arugula, fennel, roast carrots, avocado, and scallions.  It tasted just like fall and the bitterness of the arugula was a nice contrast to the creaminess of the cauliflower tart.

I  took a couple of thick cut New York strip steaks out of the freezer.  We get them from our local meat CSA and are always excited when steaks are included.  At the farmer’s market, I picked up a couple of end-of-the-season peppers and onions.  Add to that a balsamic reduction (man, does that stink when you cook it!) and we had a simple and delicious main dish.

Steak with Peppers, Onions, and a Balsamic Reduction

Thick New York Strip Steaks

Sweet Peppers (I used red and yellow), Sliced

Red Onion, Sliced

Balsamic Vinegar (because you are making a reduction you do not need a really good bottle here.  I bought a $6 bottle of organic balsamic)

1.  Preheat oven to 400.

2.  Liberally salt and pepper steaks.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium-high.  Add steaks and brown on each side.  Place on plate to the side.

3.  Add onion to same pan that you cooked the steaks in and cook until translucent, 3-4 minutes.

4.  Add peppers and cook with onions until soft.

5.  Add the steaks back to the pan and place in the oven until cooked until desired doneness.  If your steaks are not particularly thick and they have already cooked through you can skip this step.

6.  Place balsamic in a separate saucepan.  Bring to boil and simmer until reduced to about a 1/4 of the original amount and thick. This can be done ahead of time and keeps for several weeks.

7.  Rest steaks on cutting board for 5 minutes.  Thinly slice and serve in a dish with the peppers and onions and the balsamic drizzled on top.

Arugula and Fennel Salad with Roast Carrots

Arugula

Fennel

Baby Carrots*

Scallions

Avocado

Cumin

Lemon Vinaigrette**

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Thoroughly wash and dry baby carrots.  Toss with olive oil and a sprinkling of cumin and place in pan in the oven.  Roast until soft and browned, stirring occasionally.

2.  Place arugula in salad bowl.  Shave fennel with a mandoline or slice very thing with a knife.  Add to arugula.
3.  Chop avocado and scallions and add to salad.

4.  Cut carrots into bite-sized pieces and add to salad.

5.  Lightly dress with vinaigrette.

*At the grocery store, the carrots referred to as baby carrots are often those small peeled carrot sticks.  Calling these baby carrots is a misnomer since these are actually normal carrots that have been peeled and cut into those weird cylindrical shapes.  What I am referring to in this post are actually baby carrots – the kind that you get at the farmers market that are small and still have their greens attached.  These are great because you don’t need to peel them before placing them in the oven.  If you use regular carrots, you will want to peel them and cut them into smaller pieces.

**Teagen made a dressing of her own concoction.  A simple lemon vinaigrette would also be lovely.  I like to make mine with lemon juice, a very small amount of white wine vinegar, olive oil, a bit of dijon and a smidge of maple syrup.  Not very exact measurements but it depends on your ingredients and taste.

Cauliflower Gratin and Béchamel Sauce

I love gratins.  All kinds, especially in the fall.  The basis for a good gratin (if you don’t want to make the full-fat, full-cream version) is a good béchamel sauce.

For those of you that are not familiar with béchamel sauce, in addition to being the foundation for gratins, it is also used for homemade mac-n-cheese, lasagna, and anywhere else you need a creamy sauce.  At its most basic, it is milk thickened with flour.  The flour serves two purposes: to thicken the milk and to keep it from separating during cooking.  For this cauliflower gratin, I added a very sharp white cheddar, dried mustard and thyme to the béchamel to create the sauce.  I then topped it with crunchy panko and voila, a yummy, creamy, perfect-for-fall dish.

Cauliflower Gratin

1 medium head of cauliflower cut into florets

2 tbsp butter

1 heaping tablespoon of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk*

1 1/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar (the sharpest you can find)**

1/2 cup panko

1/2 tsp ground mustard

3 sprigs thyme

1. Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a cast-iron skillet or other over safe pan with non stick spray and add cauliflower in even layers.

2.  Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour and stir briefly until mixed.

3.  Add a very small amount of milk and stir briskly until mixed.  It will get really thick.  Add a little more milk and stir again to mix.  Keep repeating this until all the milk has been added.  It is important to only add a very small amount at a time so you don’t end up with lumpy sauce.

4.  Add the thyme, mustard and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir and simmer until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

5.  Remove from heat and add 1 cup of the cheese (reserve 1/4 cup) slowly while stirring constantly.

6.  Pour sauce over cauliflower.

7.  In a small bowl, mix together panko, the remaining cheese and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Spread mixture evenly over cauliflower

8.  Bake 25-30 minutes until cauliflower is tender and top is golden.

*I use whole milk for a creamier sauce and because I think it is healthier for you.  When you take the fat out of milk, you leave all the sugar and your body cannot process the sugar without the fat.

**I never use pre-grated cheese for two reasons.  One, it doesn’t taste the same.  Two, they add cellulose (wood pulp) to the cheese to make it not stick together.  Ick!

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