Empress Tacos — Great Steak Tacos

Empress Tacos

While I’ve been known to indulge in tacos, they’re seldom my favorite food. They tend to be a bit messy and, frankly, with just hamburger and chicken, they tend to be pretty much the same — maybe with more or less chili — but you get the idea. Having said that, these “Empress Tacos” are a different story. Their something else entirely, starting with filet mignon (cut into chunks after cooking) and combining a little lettuce, guacamole and salsa fresca, add a little lettuce and you have a real treat. Add some black beans on the side and now you have something special.

For those who are curious, this dish — which I found in an old cookbook and upgraded a bit — is named for the Empress Carlota, who was at the time apparently the actual empress of Mexico. She was a big fan of the spicy food of Mexico (she apparently wasn’t native there) and these tacos were designed to bring her to mind, from time to time, I guess.

There are some things to note about this recipe. You can use other kinds of steak for them, but the filet is really the way to go. As for the tacos, guacamole, and salsa fresca, each of them can be made yourself or bought from a decent Mexican (or some other store) as you see fit. Generally, I seldom make tacos, but the guac and the salsa I love to make myself. I can get the chunks and the  flavors just right that way. 

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Cinco de Mayo — Steak with Mexican Flavors

steak mexicana

Steak with Mexicana flavors, is not one of those things I traditionally think about when doing Cinco de Mayo, but there’s no reason for that. It’s a quite a delicious treat, relatively easy to make, and makes a small four-person treat as part of a bigger meal or a great two-person dish. 

The real trick here is to roast the chiles poblano, which takes a few minutes, but makes an ordinary dish into something a bit special. The trick here is to blacken the skin so it can be removed quickly, then seed the peppers and chop them up into small pieces. The blackened skin is don by roasting the peppers over an open gas burner (or electric) or, if you would rather, cut them in half and place them on a broiler pan. Honestly, it really is that easy.

The steak is even easier. I tend to like ribeye, but you can also use tip steaks, sirloin – basically anything that’s lean and serves well as a medium rare steak. The end-result is dynamite.

The original for this recipe came from Bobby Flay’s Authentic Mexican cookbook, altered to fit my taste.

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Flank Steak with Lemon Oil Marinade

Flank steak is a nice and different way to make steak from the grill, but only if you have a bit of time to marinate it. Throw a flank steak on a grill and you’ve got a pretty much unusable steak. But add a little marinade, let it sit overnight and cook it medium to rare, and you’ve got something special on your hands.

That’s where this lemon oil marinade, which is very simple, really does the job. The oil is simple. A good canola oil, some lemon, a little lemon zest and your on your way. Add a few other things — especially green onions — and your home. Now all you have to do is wait until the meat is ready to cook. 

As a marinade for steak, I really can’t come up with much better than this. It takes an ordinary, tough steak and makes it into a wonder. Setting aside the small number of ready to cook steaks — like filet mignon, strip or t-bone — I can’t think of a single marinade/sauce I’ve ever found that comes up to this in terms of the flavor it provides. I’ve also used this for everything from a London broil to tip steak, flank steak, skirt steak or just about anything else I can find. It’s that good. Because of the lemon content, you can also use a bit of the marinade to serve right over the steak, after it’s finished on the grill.

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Hey! Saturday is Filet Mignon Day!

filet mignon

Alright. Any day I can get my hands on a great  filet mignon is a pretty great one, but to be truthful I rarely, if ever, write much about them because, well, you put them on a grill and they’re done, right? Yes you can rub them, but they’re still only fun if you can grill — or maybe use a broiler or a pan, if necessary.

Well, it turns out there actually are a few nice things you can do with a filet mignon, and fortunately, they don’t involve doing anything to the meat, itself. For me, that would definitely be a no-no. Which brings me around to something I’ve done only once before, although I can’t exactly figure out why. Laziness, maybe? In any case, it’s a lovely ground pear and garlic dip that the filet can sit in or have on the side, if you prefer. The meat gets a little rub and that’s it. Everything else is the pear sauce, and I promise you that is good and something you won’t see every day.

The original recipe came from something I saw in an old food channel recipe, and it was scaled down from a much larger batch. It took several tries before I got it down to what was a bit more appropriate for a menu of say, two or maybe four filets, which makes a little more sense. I tend to go a little heavy on the garlic, so you can certainly be a little more conservative there if you like.

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Quick Top Sirloin Steak with Salsa

top sirloin steak

There are plenty of times that none of us wants to hang around for dinner. Whether you have family or just you, the result is just the same: get dinner on the table and let’s head out to what’s really important, right? Yeah, we know. That’s where this top sirloin steak becomes your best friend.

First of all, the steak and the salsa can both be made the night before (and gets better for it), while a little mashed potatoes, french fries, a nice little salad and the rest can be put together while the steak warms up and does a quick 3-4 minutes per side. Honestly guys, you really can’t get much improvement for that.

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Pepper Steak with a Kick

pepper steak

Along with Won Ton soup, I would be willing to bet that pepper steak is one of the first things most of us Americans tried when we first encountered Chinese food here. I’ve never encountered anything like pepper steak in China, though the flavor reminds me of a dish I had once at a hotel in Guilin made with pork. The version served in most inexpensive Chinese restaurants in the US is typically rather bland and seems more American than Chinese, probably for a good reason. This version has more authentic flavors and a bit of a bite. And while its not authentic by any means, it’s flavor profile is much more like what I remember from southern China and Hong Kong.

Some notes about the ingredients are in order. Xiaoxing wine is not easy to find, but dry sherry is a perfectly good substitute, one that I use most of the time, in fact. I found a market where I can sometimes find real Sichuan peppers. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon them, stock up and freeze what you can’t immediately use. The small red Thai peppers that are more common make a pretty good substitute, but they’re not the same. 

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Thai-Inspired Flank Steak Salad

Steak Salad

For some reason, I’ve seen a ton of steak salads recently in magazines, on television and on the web. I’m guessing that it has something to do with the time of year. On a very warm summer evening, a salad that’s worthy of a meal makes a lot of sense. In any case, this steak salad was adapted from several similar recipes I uncovered with a little research. It’s inspired by the flavors of Thailand (or maybe southeast Asia), and it will be showing up on our table frequently for the rest of the summer, you can be sure.

One of the things that makes this recipe interesting to me is that the steak marinade and the dressing are essentially the same. The marinade gets just a little more lime juice and a bit of fish sauce, both of which help tenderize the meat. I used flank steak mainly because it’s reasonably priced and generally always available, but I can think of some other cuts of beef that might work, including flat-iron or skirt steak, or maybe even top round steak.

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